The Delta school board approved the 2017-2018 budget, cuts included, in a unanimous vote on May 2 — but added a provision that will bring an additional $234,136 to the budget.
The motion, put forward by trustee and Delta South NDP candidate Bruce Reid, would give the funding to the inclusive learning department, which supports special needs and aboriginal students. The idea, Reid said, was to give the department a flexible funding option.
In the 2017-2018 budget recommendations, five education assistants (EAs) were cut from the inclusive learning department to help alleviate the projected $2.17 million deficit — a cost savings of $234,136. An additional 23.22 full-time equivalent EAs were cut from the budget due to a projected decrease in enrollment of students with special needs.
“They would be using this to enhance needs for students in that department,” Reid said. “My understanding is that would include having additional EAs.”
However, he added, he “didn’t want to tie their hands” with the funding, something that was a selling feature for other trustees.
“There seems to be somewhat of a fixation on that an EA is the best thing for my child,” school board trustee Fabian Milat said. “In some cases, that’s not the case.”
He said he supported the motion because it gave the department flexibility to pursue other avenues of support for students.
Chairperson Laura Dixon agreed, mentioning that the court settlement on class size and composition would bring significant changes to the district.
“I am not clear on when we start reorganizing allocations of students … if that’s going run smoothly for the next year,” Dixon said. “I really appreciate the opportunity to ensure that if that support is needed, it is given to support our students.”
The $234,136 is one-time funding coming from the school district’s reserve funds. This means it is only available for the 2017-2018 school year, and will have to be paid back next year.
“There’s a belief out there in the general community that reserves are available and somehow we have this massive amount of money sitting somewhere,” trustee Nick Kanakos said.
“We’re looking at a situation where we may have to come back next year and say we now have to fund that $234,000 in addition to any shortfall we may have next year.”
According to Windsor, the district will be starting the 2018-2019 budget with at least a $734,136 deficit. This includes the $500,000 taken from reserves to address the deficit in the budget recommendations, as well as the $234,136 for inclusive learning.
In the 2017-2018 budget, the district had to account for a $915,000 shortfall taken from reserves in the 2016-2017 budget.
In Dixon’s summary, she made it clear that the 23 EAs cut due to enrollment would be hired on a case by case basis if actual enrollment for special needs exceeds the projections.