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Delta School District to reduce education assistant positions in upcoming budget

Recommended cuts are due to reduced enrolment of students with special needs
The Delta School District has had a financial deficit every year for a decade. By law

The Delta School District could be seeing just over 23 full-time equivalent education assistant positions cut due to declining enrolment.

These cuts are one of the main ways the school district is dealing with its projected $2.017 million deficit for the $150 million 2017-2018 budget. Approximately $1 million of that deficit is from an enrolment decrease for students with special needs.

Special needs students bring more money to the district through government funding, and a significant decrease in enrolment can drastically change the amount of money a district receives.

The number of students designated as having special needs is expected to be around 930 for the 2017-2018 school year. This is a loss of around 50 students.

This is the first time in 15 years that enrolment numbers for students with special needs has decreased — and the district isn’t completely sure why. Last year, more students with special needs graduated from the school system in Grade 12 than usual, and that trend has been projected into the 2017-2018 fiscal year as well.

To deal with this shortfall, the district is recommending a total reduction of 23.22 full-time equivalent education assistant positions. This would come with a total savings of about $1.065 million for the district.

“Over the years, when our enrolment has increased, even though we’ve had budget reductions as a district, … all of that was put into special education,” district secretary treasurer Joe Strain said.

“In the same way, because we’re seeing a reduction, we’re saying that needs to come from the program where it occurred as well.”

In the last five years, the district has gotten rid of 16.5 full-time equivalent education assistant positions, with 12 of those happening in 2016-2017.

Although special needs enrolment makes up nearly half of the district’s projected shortfall, it’s not the only place the district is losing money.

There are a number of recommendations to reduce the projected deficit, in addition to the reduction of education assistants.

The school board removed one full-time equivalent clerical position from Educational Programs. This was removed due to the amalgamation of the Special Education (or Inclusive Learning) department and the Education Programs department. There were also cuts to funding for supplies for the School Board office and Education Programs.

There's also a recommendation to increase profits from the International Student Program and the Continuing Education Program, the school district's main revenue-generating departments.

Increasing revenue from these programs has been consistent over the past six years, although the district doesn’t want to rely too heavily on that source. This year, the district intends to increase revenue by $107,561, as well as use $500,000 in reserve funds to offset the deficit.

There are also an additional 5.1 full-time equivalent education assistant positions on the chopping block in an effort to create a balanced budget. This is on top of the 23.22 full-time equivalent positions mentioned earlier in the article.

In the background of all these recommendations is the new collective agreement between the B.C. Teacher’s Federation and the provincial government. The school district doesn’t believe it will have an implication on the operating budget, but they won’t know “until the dust settles,” Strain said.

The district is expecting to receive approximately $6.8 million from the court-mandated settlement between the provincial government and the BCTF. However, the Delta School District has to balance its operating budget independently of the funds allocated for the collective agreement provisions.

According to Strain, not all of this funding would be considered new. Last year, the district received $2.2 million from the Learning Improvement Fund, as well as $1.38 million from the Priority Measures fund in February 2017. Extrapolating, the district said nearly $5 million was pre-existing funding.

The new funding, according to the district, is the $1.1 million for teacher compensation and the $778,000 for overhead and operating expenses.

Because all of this money is designated as a special purpose fund — meaning it can only be used to fulfil the collective agreement provisions — it can’t go to increase the number of education assistants in the district, or reduce any other cuts made to the budget.

However, Strain said, the $778,000 in funding for overhead and operating costs might be able to be used for education assistants. It could also be used to create more physical classrooms, increase custodial time, or purchase more furniture for classrooms.

The school district won’t know the official amount it’s receiving from the province for the settlement, or all the stipulations attached to the money, until September.

The public can provide input on the draft budget on Tuesday, April 25 at the District School Board office (4585 Harvest Drive) at 7 p.m. The proposed budget will move forward to the Delta School Board for a decision on May 2.