By Alex Rinfret-The school district is preparing to pay for a new bus route from Tow Hill Road to Masset and more outdoor education next year, according to the draft budget presented to the public this week.
Secretary-treasurer Ken Campbell said the new bus route will carry 20 to 24 students from their homes in the Tow Hill Road area to Tahayghen and G.M. Dawson. The cost for the additional bus route is $65,000, but the district is already paying these parents $20,000 a year in transportation assistance, making the net new cost $45,000.
Trustees Lisa Gyorgy and Sharon Matthews said parents have been asking the board to provide bus service in that area.
According to the draft budget, the district will also continue to provide bus service for Port Clements students who want to attend Queen Charlotte Secondary, 70 km away, rather than the closer G.M. Dawson Secondary in Masset. The extra annual cost of this route is only $9,000, Mr. Campbell said, because it takes advantage of buses already running.
Previously, parents of the 13 Port students attending QCSS had paid for the bus themselves, but trustees voted in December to provide the service until the end of this school year.
The draft budget sets aside money to pay for that route all next year. There were no comments on this subject from the public attending the April 2 meeting at Tahayghen elementary where the draft budget was first presented. However, members of the Parent Advisory Committee from G.M. Dawson told the board in February they were not happy with the decision, because it could drain students from their school.
The budget won’t be finalized until June. The meetings being held this week and next are meant to give the public a chance to comment on the draft budget. Trustees said they will take those comments into account when developing the final budget.
The final budget will depend on how many students enroll in the district’s schools in September. In order to prepare the draft budget, Mr. Campbell estimated there will be 715 students next year, compared to 724 this year. District enrollment has been declining for many years, and he said the decline will continue.
He showed the public a graph of the number of students in each grade. The largest class is grade 12, with 87 in the district right now, and the other high school grades also have relatively large enrollments. The smallest class is kindergarten, with only 40. As the higher grades move out of the system, we will see further declines here, he said.
Although the district has less students, it has been getting more money from the provincial government for the last few years, he said.
If enrollment in September is on target, the district should receive about $9.3-million in operating funds from the province, a $73,000 increase over last year, Mr. Campbell said.
The district also receives other revenue, like rent from the houses it owns and interest, bringing its total revenue for next year to over $9.7-million.
Most of that money will be spent on salaries and benefits, including provincially-negotiated salary increases of 2.5 percent for teachers and 2 percent for support and exempt staff. The draft budget plans for the equivalent of almost 48 full-time teachers, down two teachers from this year, and reduces the number of full-time equivalent support staff by three, to just over 48. It provides two new vice-principal positions, at Sk’aadgaa Naay and Queen Charlotte Secondary, for a total of 9.8 principal and vice-principal positions.
Mr. Campbell outlined $125,000 in new spending for the coming year: $30,000 to implement a new student information system (this is mandatory for all districts), $15,000 that the district can no longer collect in student fees, $10,000 to replace desks and tables, $45,000 for the Tow Hill Road bus route, and $25,000 for outdoor education.
The district will also provide $26,000 for extra-curricular travel and $24,000 for travel for sports teams that qualify for provincials, and will contribute $10,000 to support cultural programs, as it has in previous years.
In total, the district plans to spend $10.2-million next year, $471,000 more than it will receive in revenue. The difference will be made up by the surplus the district has accumulated, Mr. Campbell said.
Hope Setso asked the board if it was planning to replace Tahayghen and G.M. Dawson schools, both of which are aging and too large for the number of students attending.
Mr. Campbell replied that while these schools are old, they don’t score low enough on a provincial scale to qualify for replacement at the moment. The Port Clements school didn’t score low enough on that scale either, he said, but is getting replaced because there was a unique opportunity to cooperate with the municipality on a new building.
Superintendent Mike Woods said the district may offer a French Immersion class next year, depending on whether it can hire a teacher. French Immersion teachers are in high demand all over Canada, but the district has advertised for one and will be interviewing candidates this month. The cost of this was not included in the draft budget, but Mr. Campbell said it would have a minimal effect, since the program would also bring in additional revenue from the government.
Another potential revenue source not covered in the draft budget is international students. Mr. Campbell said the district is “working on the potential” and has had initial discussions with a person who is interested in bringing some international students to the islands. These students would pay tuition to the district to attend school here.
Trustees said they welcome written submissions from the public on the draft budget up until April 12. The public has two more opportunities to hear about the draft budget next week: Tuesday, April 10 at Sk’aadgaa Naay, starting at 7 pm, and Thursday, April 12, at A.L. Mathers, starting at 6:30 pm.
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