SD71 has come up with a budget deficit after government funding it received was less than expected.
Though it expected an operating grant of $80.5 million from the Ministry of Education, the actual amount received was $1.5 million less.
Secretary-treasurer of the district, Nicole Bittante, explained that funding from the ministry is based on enrolment projections. In the winter, using a tool called Baragar Systems, the school district estimates September enrolment. Based on the school’s Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) enrolment, the ministry does a preliminary grant allocation to school districts across the province. A preliminary budget is put together in the spring based on this grant announcement.
FTE is different than headcount and is calculated based on the number of courses each student is taking.
“So by the end of September, we know exactly what our enrolment is and then the ministry recalculates the grant and gives us the final grant in December, which is what we just received,” said Bittante.
The SD71 estimate was off by 191 FTE enrolment.
Bittante cautions that this does not mean enrolment was down this year, it was just lower than projected.
“Our enrolment is actually up over the actual enrolment last September,” she said.
“It’s just down from what we projected it to be this September.”
At the Dec. 18 school board meeting, board chair Janice Caton noted that this system has been used by SD71 for many years and it has never been this wrong.
“It’s something we’ve used for many years, it’s always been right on the mark, maybe off by five or 10 students, but never to the degree it’s been now,” she said.
Bittante explained that Baragar Systems provides projected headcount and she believes the problem arose from the conversion from headcount to FTE. Not every student, especially in high school, takes a full course load, which results in a reduced FTE for that student.
As an example, Tom Demeo, assistant superintendent, added that if a student has a support block, they do not get credit, and the district is not funded for that block.
“I believe that most of the issue is attributed to the fact that we were audited last year,” said Bittante, adding that the most notable variances were seen in high schools, which had changed some of their practices after the audit.
Though the grant came in $1.5 million short, after adjusting the budget, a savings of approximately $300,000 was found, reducing the deficit to $1,220,129.
At the meeting, the school board voted in favour of transferring this amount from the district’s unrestricted operating surplus to balance the budget.