Still some unknowns around enrolment

How is SD83 doing with enrolment? An awesome question and one that comes with a lot of different possible answers, reported Superintendent of Schools/CEO Peter Jory to trustees at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday.

SD83 was projected to have 6517 FTE students and schools were staffed based on that. “The good news is that most of our kids came back to school, or agreed to come back to school. A week ago I heard the Minister (of Education Rob Fleming) say the provincial number was 85 per cent and at that time I believe we were at 94 per cent, with the potential to get to 98 or 99 per cent, so in that regard we are doing well,” he added.

Jory noted the enrolment picture looks different across the district and it is difficult to see a trend. “Most schools are right around projections. A few are actually up. A few are down considerably or were staffed with the expectation or possibility of going up, and we have made adjustments to staffing that limit the number of open seats in those schools. Typically, we like to keep some seats available for new students. Numbers over 30 will draw our attention, even in this context. Open seats in these cases are determined not by absolute capacity, but by “best efforts” to meet the restored language in our local collective agreement with NOSTA.”

Currently, SD83 has just under 180 students on soft-start, 220 in EOP temporarily, and 62 already signed up for EOP all year with perhaps 30 more on the way. “Assuming everyone that says they will come back does so, we are only down 80 to 100 FTE. However, there are unknowns in that range, in that if any of our soft starts or EOP returning students register elsewhere, we will not get funded for them, and the potential liability will grow.”

“The provincial and federal grant money has been much appreciated by staff and by parents, and frankly, it has kept us in business. However, it is not infinite, and given the increases in cleaning costs, EOP staffing, safety supplies like screens and masks, potential loss of enrollment, potentially higher staffing replacement costs, we realized quite quickly that we were at risk of not making it to winter break, let alone the end of the year, and we still needed to be prudent,” he said.

“We also have our eye on additional supervision for schools, and a wellness program for staff and students, and it is my hope there will be budget space for those ideas as we move through the school year. We are not alone in our challenges, but we are doing what we can to manage them. We will spend every cent of the grant money. There is no doubt about that. We would like it to run out as the final buzzer sounds at 3 pm on June 24th rather than some time sooner.”

Secretary-Treasurer Alanna Cameron shared some early financial information with trustees, commenting that a worst case scenario could see the district down about $2 million below projections “Principals are diligent in reporting changes but we never actually know until September 30.”

She mentioned that SD83’s share of the provincial special purpose funds was $590,000. However, it the Ministry has prescribed what the district can spend this money on and it includes reuseable masks, faceguards, computers assisted technology, and sanitizer. “Those dollars will easily be spent during the first couple of months of school.”

She said that the announced federal funding will come in two draws, one in late September and one in December. Both will be for $1.1 million. She added the criteria for this grant is a little softer and can be used for COVID-19 related expenses including supplies and staffing.

Some of the district’s financial pressure points related to COVID include expanding EOP (staffing and clerical), Education Outreach Worker, chromebooks, increased custodial time and handwashing stations, increased bus driver time (to allow drivers time to clean buses between routes), trade staff overtime (to prepare schools with safety items (plexiglass etc), health and safety training and orientation, absence replacement (yet to be determined but considering it to be substantial), reuseable masks and handwashing products.