The Kamloops-Thompson school district could see a dip in the amount of funding it receives from the provincial government depending on the number of students who return to in-class instruction.
School districts receive a little more than $7,000 per student, but that amount is reduced in cases where a pupil is enrolled in distance education or home-schooled.
Technically, students could start the year in one of those two programs under that funding model, only to return to their neighbourhood school months later if parent confidence is high enough, leaving a funding gap.
Interim superintendent Terry Sullivan said he is confident the education ministry is aware of the potential issue and will be flexible with funding definitions, based on updates he has received from the deputy minister of education.
“I don’t really have a lot of anxiety around that. I think they are sensitive to it,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan, however, has instructed teachers to reach out to parents to get a sense of how many students will, in fact, be returning to schools and what the demand for alternative learning models might be in the district.
That work began last week, with Sullivan posting a video telling parents that on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, a staff member from their child’s school will be contacting them, asking if they will be in attendance next week or if they are opting for either distance learning or home-schooling.
Sullivan said he hopes these calls will also reduce some anxiety for parents and reassure them about the health and safety precautions school staff are taking to ensure student safety.
“This is a communicable disease and I can’t guarantee that there aren’t going to be any cases that might surface in our schools,” Sullivan said, noting school staff have worked to ensure the safest possible environment.
Premier John Horgan has said a survey of a group of parents across the province’s 60 school districts revealed about 80 per cent will be sending their kids back to school.
Once the number of returnees is known in Kamloops-Thompson, the district can turn its attention to the exceptions and develop flexible plans for those scenarios, Sullivan said.
Parents with students on wait lists for schools of choice or enrolled in neighbourhood schools will not lose their place if they choose an alternative learning route this year.
If a student in a school of choice vacates his or her spot, it won’t be refilled with a student on the wait list, Sullivan said.
“We’re going to welcome them back whether they [parents] decide to send their children back at the end of the month or next month or two months or three months from now,” he said.
Asked what may be done if a majority of parents want online learning for their students this year, Sullivan said he doesn’t expect there to be a large demand given the gap between enrolment in distance learning and home-schooling currently compared to the rest of the district.
Sullivan said he does expect, however, the distant learning program will see some more students.
“We’re not expecting a huge influx of students enrolled into distributed (distance) learning — that could change,” Sullivan said, noting the district has hired additional staff in that program to be prepared for that eventuality.
The school district’s distributed learning program, known as @KOOL, is offered online using a variety of software tools such as Moodle and WebCT to allow students to access the curriculum and to interact with teachers.
Sullivan said it’s difficult to determine now what percentage of students not returning to schools could leave a challenging hole in funding.
By this Friday, Sullivan said, he expects to know what percentage of the student body will be returning, which will illuminate any funding shortfall.
But that number could also fluctuate as the month of September unfolds, making it irrelevant, he said, as the province has maintained its Sept. 30 deadline for enrolment numbers to calculate funding.
Sullivan said the ministry will likely address any funding shortcomings when those dollars are distributed in February.
Last week, the province announced $242.4 million in federal funding will be distributed to school districts.
The money is meant to be used in hiring more teachers and support staff to help students — whether learning remotely or in the classroom — in purchasing more software licences and electronic course materials or textbooks, in helping supply computers or tablets for families who need them and in creating additional Wi-Fi hubs in remote and Indigenous communities and providing internet access for families.
This funding will also allow schools to expand their health and safety measures, improve ventilation in buildings, purchase more personal protective equipment, install Plexiglass barriers and hire more custodial and support staff.