The Abbotsford School District expects a funding announcement from the Ministry of Education for its 2019/20 school year on Friday.
The announcement will form the basis of the vast majority of the school district’s revenue, and secretary-treasurer Ray Velestuk said that means the finance department will be busy crafting its budget for the next fiscal year.
“It’s always nice to get our funding right before spring break. So we get the two weeks during spring break to work on the budget, and so we’ll have more information after spring break. Obviously that’s when we’ll have a clear picture of finances for the next year,” Velestuk said.
Of the school district’s $186.9 million in operating revenue for the current fiscal year, 96 per cent came from provincial grants, Velestuk told a handful of attendees at a district budget information session last week. That means the school district’s budgeting is almost entirely dependent on how much the ministry will be funding the school district.
With the province currently engaged in collective agreement negotiations with the B.C. Teachers Federation, there remains some uncertainty as to how that may affect the district’s finances in the upcoming fiscal year.
And when it comes to planning for the future, further uncertainties also stand out. The Ministry of Education is also undertaking a review of the funding model, which could affect how the ministry allocates funds to various school districts. However, the ministry has said that no changes will be coming to the funding model for the 2019/20 fiscal year.
Velestuk spoke to some of the budget pressures facing the finance department in crafting the upcoming budget, with one of the foremost pressures being the diminishing surplus.
The budget for the current fiscal year included more than $222 million in spending and around $217 million in revenue, making a deficit of $5.2 million, including an operating deficit of nearly $4 million, drawing the accumulated surplus down nearly to problematic levels.
Among the matters complicating the surplus, Velestuk noted the Ministry of Education’s requirement that the school district take on a portion of the cost of capital projects. In Abbotsford, one major capital project stands out: the upcoming Eagle Mountain elementary school.
Velestuk also noted recruitment challenges – a high turnover rate has caused extra strain in the human resources department in attempting to keep up with staffing needs – along with classroom space requirements for increasing enrolment at the school.
Over the past five years, ASD’s provincial grant revenue has increased from around $150 million in 2013/14 to just shy of $180 million in the current fiscal year.
In large part, the increase in grant revenue has come through growing student enrolments. Notwithstanding, however, is the B.C. classroom enhancement fund contributions in the past few years – roughly $11 million paid to ASD annually – to accommodate a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that allowed teachers to include classroom sizes in their collective bargaining.
Since 2011/12, enrolment has fluctuated to some degree, but trended upward from around 19,200 to the current enrolment just shy of 20,000. By 2020/21, that’s expected to increase to nearly 20,500.