Dear Parents and Guardians,
I writing to you after a hectic but overwhelmingly successful school start-up. Things have gone very well for the most part, which is tribute to the hard work of our staff, the patience of our parents, and the resilience of our children. There is much of which to be proud, and I will take yet another opportunity to thank everybody who has had a part in making this happen.
As you may know from previous publications, the majority of our students have returned to learn with us for the 2020-21 school year. About three hundred students have chosen to do so through the graduated return, or “Soft-Start” option, or to join our Education Outreach Program (EOP) as an online learner, either temporarily, or for the balance of the year. Our overall funded enrollment now stands at 6429, which is 98.6% of the 6517 we were projecting. This should be considered a success, and I believe that this number puts us ahead of many other districts in the province during this unique pandemic context.
However, a significant financial issue has come to light over recent weeks, and it has come in three parts. The first part is the initial reduction of student-based funding caused by the loss of 98 students, along with the lower level of funding generated by students in an online program. The second part is the realization that a disproportionate number of students who did not return were students with funded Individualized Education Plans, so our Inclusive Education Department is facing a significant funding reduction. The third part is a bit more complicated, and that is the impact of the Classroom Enhancement Fund (CEF).
Since the Supreme Court ruling in 2017, our district has been receiving approximately six million dollars a year in additional funding to restore classrooms to reflect restored local contract language. We are expected to staff in accordance with that contract language, then we receive grant money to pay for the difference in the number of teachers required. We staffed in accordance with the old language, but reduction in students has meant that we no longer qualify for the CEF grant in several of our schools.
At this point, the combination of factors has resulted in a deficit of more than 2 million dollars, which may end up being significantly more before we complete our CEF application process. In response to these challenges, senior staff began working on plans to draw down the number of teachers in schools where there are enough empty seats to do so and still meet the restored contract language. More reductions will certainly follow across a number of staffing categories, and some programs approved at the Board table will need to come back for reconsideration. Some have wondered about our using the Federal Grant monies to offset staffing reductions. This will remain a consideration, but it should be noted that the majority of it will be easily spent covering the increased costs it was intended to support.
All in all, this is not what we wish to be talking about as we move into fall. Some of your children have already been impacted by these changes and we have received a number of communications on the matter. On behalf of everyone, I apologize profusely for the inconvenience and additional stresses, but please know that every one of these decisions is done carefully and thoughtfully, and that they all weigh heavily on us.
In closing, we look for your continued support as we continue to navigate the tricky waters of this COVID-19 scenario, and the further challenges that no doubt will follow in the pandemic economy. Despite all this, we hope that you and your family can take a much needed break and have an enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend,
Peter Jory, Superintendent of Schools/CEO
School District No. 83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap)