News Local

Board's budget targets cash cuts

By Nathan Taylor, Orillia Packet & Times

The Simcoe County District School Board has introduced its proposed operating budget for the 2009-10 school year, and it includes measures to counter some cuts in government funding.

Although per-pupil funding for textbooks and other learning materials and classroom computers has been reduced by 15 per cent and 25 per cent respectively, "we realize we can't not invest in those areas," said Carol McAulay, superintendent of business and information technology services.

"We are not decreasing our allocation to the schools."

The board is looking at the option of buying materials with other boards in the province, shifting resources from school to school within the board and putting less focus on paper, more on digital.

In its balanced budget, the board is reporting total revenues of $473,531,600 and the same for operating expenditures. That's nearly $5 million more than last year. Most of that increase can be attributed to a number of collective agreements, McAulay noted.

Two of the most significant changes from last year's budget, she said, relate to classroom supplies and declining enrolment.

Last year, the board budgeted for 51,783 students. For 2009-10, it is budgeting for 50,577.

About 500 students left the board within the past school year.

The grant that is issued to assist boards during enrolment decline has been compressed, forcing boards to more rapidly adjust by eliminating empty spaces in schools, McAulay said.

The accommodation review process is one example of where things could be expedited.

The board is required under the Education Act to submit a balanced budget.

The proposed budget for 2009-10 accomplishes that without dipping into reserves.

"We've been using them a lot in the last number of years. We can't afford to continue to do that," she said.

Declining enrolment makes the budgeting process difficult in terms of long-term planning, McAulay said.

As enrolment shrinks, so, essentially, does the organization. With fewer students, fewer people and resources are required.

"After four years of decline, we don't expect to start to grow again for a few years at least," she said.

Realizing the current economic conditions, the Ministry of Education has responded, she said, by giving boards in advance an idea of where further funding reductions can be expected.

Cuts to staff and services haven't yet been determined.

McAulay doesn't think "families and students will feel a difference in terms of what's being done in the classroom."

A main objective of the board will be to close the gap between the "higher achievers and those who are not having as much success," she said.

Overall student achievement has increased, she noted, and the gap is closing.

"We need to keep our focus on those strategies that work," she said.

Those strategies include a tight focus on literacy and numeracy at younger ages.

The board also introduced its proposed capital budget: $17,918,200.

The proposed budgets can be viewed at the board's website: www.scdsb.on.ca.

A finalized budget must be submitted to the ministry by June 30.

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Budget Comparisons

Total operating

2008-09: $468,704,700 2009-10: $473,531,600

Total capital

2008-09: $15,497,300 2009-10: $17,918,200

Enrolment

2008-09: 51,272 2009-10: 50,576.6

Grants for student needs 2008-09: $455,720,300 2009-10: $462,754,900



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