So. We're most likely going to pass a budget this year where we have to use a sizeable chunk of accumulated surplus to cover a deficit, which kicks my money habits into high anxiety. You've probably read about the drop in International Student Program, which has helped sustain the school district financially over the years. There is definitely a bigger conversation about our reliance on the ISP to help fund school functions that we consider essential. COVID-19 is also bringing on increases to cost (and reduction to revenue in some cases, like in rentals).
This post, however, is about the provincial funding.
In March 2020, Ministry of Ed announced the funding allocation for 2020-2021. (MoE allocates operating funds to the district using a formula, aka The Funding Formula, which is largely based on student head count. There are a few other allocations based on students with special needs, geography, enrolment trends, etc.) The per-pupil funding, happily, went up by $92. Doesn't sound like a lot – we're still, oh, around $1700 below the national average in that regard – but still, at 49000 students, that roughly equates to $4.5m. That sounds really nice. Right? Why are we still short $2.6m comparing to what we expected to get?
What we didn't expect was that a number of things got rolled into the per-pupil formula. The Employer Health Tax (about $3.1m), Carbon Tax Refund (~$450k), and a CUPE Service Improvement Allocation (~$670k) got rolled in. We were also expecting wage increases for CUPE staff (two "Labour Settlement" items totalling ~$4.4m) to be accounted for separately. In the past, these were all separate from the per-pupil funding and the MoE gave no indication prior to the funding announcement that these would be rolled in.
Here's Secretary Treasurer David Green examining this number for us (jump to 58:34 for this specific discussion):
Dividing the shortfall of $2.6m by 49000 students, I get $53.78. Now, this isn't the exact number of enrolled students (I think we're closer to 48000) which makes the math even more wonky (because the $2.6m figure takes into account enrolment changes) but for an estimation, we can probably say that the actual per-pupil funding only increased by ~$40, not $90.
I'm less outraged by the dollar figure than the communication around this. This is the equivalent of being told by your boss you're getting a raise, and when you do, you realise that they're actually deducting utilities and coffee money from your paycheque.
$40 is still an increase, isn't it? What's the problem? Basically, we've started allocating the increase on all the things we're dreaming about (which is the part that kicks my anxiety into high gear because isn't how I budget for our household... as a freelancer whose clients sometimes pays late because of life circumstances, I don't allocate what I don't have in my bank account) but for a large org that has to pass a budget every year and only gets 3 months to balance it, we had to make some guesses. And, the stuff we're dreaming about are really what we consider essential.
It's my second VSB budget season and it's already pretty obvious the pain areas of the district: anti-racism (we need more teachers trained, more resources for like everyone), Reconciliation (we need more Indigenous resources for students and teachers), cafeterias and food (ughhh this one is so logistically complicated). I'll jump on my Music Program horse for a moment and say I was hoping that this year, after getting the consultant's report on music, this year would be the year. $4m, even accounting for inflation, would have helped with some of above, and I would have liked to argue with my fellow trustees on which of these are the most important and be glad for whatever we could add. Or at least be at a comfortable position with additional COVID-19 expenses and decreased ISP enrolment. Alas.