The Howe Sound School District is scrambling to cut up to $190,000 in spending following a mid-year change in education funding by the province.
“The secretary-treasurers were informed (by the government) and their initial reaction to this was surprise and astonishment that they would do something like this mid-stream,” said school board chairman Dave Walden.
“What they are doing does have some justification. But to do it when we have already set our budgets at a time like this is going to produce a lot of hardship.”
Walden admits the board has no idea where they will find the extra money considering the budget has already been pared down as much as possible.
“We have spent hours and hours trying to pare the budget down,” he said.
“We got it set, we have informed schools of what the budgets are, and now we get something dropped on us like this. It will create quite a problem for us.”
The change was announced quietly by the Ministry of Education in mid-October.
The funding change, which could result in up to $50 million being held back from school districts across the province, would eliminate a guarantee of base funding for students who take less than eight courses in Grade 10 through 12.
Previously districts received half of a full-time funding allotment for every student registered and another half as long as that student took four or more courses.
Under the new formula the initial half-funding for every student is eliminated and districts will now receive 0.125 of a full-time allotment for every course a student takes.
The government’s budget for operating grants to the school districts this year is $4.345 billion.
Minister of Education Shirley Bond could not be reached for comment on the funding change but sent the following e-mail response: "The adjustment has been done to correct an anomaly in the system that allowed districts to receive double administrative funding for students taking less than a full course load,” she stated.
“For example, while a full course load is considered to be eight courses, full funding was being provided for students taking as few as four courses.
“This funding change is based on important principles of equity and fairness. We've taken steps to ensure that those dollars are directed where they are most needed, towards improved student achievement through programs like the increasingly popular distributed learning.
“Ministry staff continues to work with school districts and boards of education to address their questions related to the funding adjustment…”
Walden said secretary treasurers throughout the province had a teleconference call with ministry officials on Monday and another is expected to take place today. The ministry has also told school districts, said Walden, that officials plan to speak with each secretary treasurer individually.
The Howe Sound board is looking for places to find the money, including some government funding it is expecting later this month related to enrolment figures.
The district has had a budget surplus in the past but does not budget for one, nor does it carry them forward form year to year.
Said first vice-president Susan Lambert of the British Columbia Teachers Federation: “This policy will make it much more difficult for districts to plan on staffing for secondary schools.
“How can boards know at what level to staff when it will depend on how many courses a student takes in each semester at their school? Now, if a student takes even one of their eight courses elsewhere or less than a full course load, their school district stands to lose funding.”
The BCTF wants the ministry to fund education this school year on the previously existing policy. And it said any change should be made only after widespread consultation and time for school districts to plan for the impact of new funding policies.