Shifted enrolment toward less lucrative formats amidst the COVID-19 pandemic has the Kamloops-Thompson school district ponying up $1.5 million to balance its 2020-2021 budget.
Trustees have unanimously approved using $1,550,615 from the school district’s operating reserve to balance its budget as about 625 students more than last year have so far chosen to attend distributed learning or home schooling options rather than in-person classes.
Distributed learning, or distance learning, is when students take classes online from home through the district’s @Kool program.
Distributed learning enrolment is currently at 665 students, an increase of 479 from September 2019. There are also 159 students being home schooled, compared to the 13 who registered last fall.
The funding shortfall in per-student dollars from government is the result of the fact funding levels for each of the instructional options are not equal.
Funding from the Ministry of Education to school districts — based on per full-time equivalent (FTE) — has the province sending $ 7,560 for each in-class student, $6,100 for each distributed learning student and just $250 for each home-schooled student.
Parental concerns over sending children back to school during the pandemic has led to the enrolment change, but school district interim Supt. Terry Sullivan believes confidence in the in-person model will build.
“We expect students will return to in-class instruction over the next several months,” Sullivan said.
In September, Sullivan confirmed to KTW the funding shortfall was a possibility, but expressed confidence in the ministry filling in the funding gap.
According to the school district, the Ministry of Education is monitoring shifting enrolment and it is expected that government will provide either a second enrolment count or some additional per-student funding in December, once provincial enrolment has been finalized and the provincial budget fully allocated.
With the full impact of the pandemic migration still in flux, the board was faced with either implementing budget cuts or using the reserves — which were set aside in August — to balance its budget and maintain staffing levels in anticipation of the eventual return of students.
“We are hoping the province will recognize there are these budget shortfalls and, perhaps by the end of the year, they may make up this difference,” board of education chair Rhonda Kershaw said.
Additional teachers, added to address the increase to distributed learning and an increase in enrolment at five elementary schools, will be funded using the Federal Safe Return to Class Fund as the operating budget cannot financially support the additions.
Elementary and secondary enrolment compared to the district’s enrolment projections has decreased overall by 114.25 FTE, with elementary down 176 FTE students, but secondary up by 61.75 FTE.