The Abbotsford school district will cut teaching positions if hundreds of international students don’t enrol in the fall.

Expected decline in international students set to trigger teacher cuts in Abbotsford

District expects more than 270 fewer international students because of COVID-19

A large projected drop in international students may take a $4 million bite out of the budget of the Abbotsford School District and lead to teaching cuts.

The district’s preliminary budget estimates that only about 177 international students will enrol next year because of COVID-19. Last year, 451 international students enrolled. The 61 per cent drop would leave the district short more than $4 million in tuition revenue.

With local enrolment expected to grow only modestly, by 60 students, the district expects to see about 210 fewer students in schools come next fall.

In response to the expected drop in international enrolment and revenue, the district looks set to cut the equivalent of more than 30 full-time equivalent teaching positions. That doesn’t necessarily mean 30 teachers will be out of a job, but that the total number of paid teaching hours will be cut by the equivalent of that many positions. Four education assistant positions designated for international students will also be cut.

Every year, the district uses computer modelling to determine how many teachers each school needs, Ray Velestuck, the district’s secretary-treasurer, said. Fewer students mean fewer teachers will be needed, he said.

Nearly half of the job cuts are the result of the district tweaking how preparation time at elementary schools is accounted for, Velestuck said. That lead to 14 full-time equivalent cuts, although that reduction is likely to be spread across a broader array of schools.

“It’s a reduction of 14, but we have 30 elementary schools, so it’s a very [minimal] FTE amount at each site.”

RELATED: COVID-19 fears prompt Abbotsford School District to cancel international trips

Velestuck said that change is one that could have been made several years ago, after a court decision forced districts to hire more specialized teachers.

The total number of principal and vice-principal positions is not forecast to change, although three will be moved from administrative positions to teaching positions.

The plans are all preliminary, though, with the enrolment numbers subject to change – given the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 situation.

In fact, the school district can only guess how many international students will show up in the fall.

“It’s a little bit of a stab in the dark,” Velestuck conceded.

He said the district has been conservative in its projections, with a 60 per cent reduction more than some other jurisdictions are predicting.

“We’re not really anticipating the border situation to change, but if the border was to re-open up and things returned to a better situation, we might see an increase in international students, but we’re not going to budget for that.”

Velestuck said the district is chiefly counting those who have “paid and committed.”

“If we get more, we’ll make adjustments in September, but we didn’t want to bank on some of these things with so many unknowns.”

Some schools that normally have many international students will also get less money for supplies and programs that benefit all learners. The district gives each school $1,500 to deliver programs to international students. Much of that is specifically targeted to support those international students, who pay on average around $15,000 for tuition. But some of that money spills over to help other students.

That money is directly tied to the students, and will see the district provide $400,000 less to schools.

But Velestuck said that the change won’t be felt dramatically on the ground.

“It won’t be significant and it won’t alter what we provide in terms of day-to-day instruction in schools, but schools that have lots of international students tend to have a little bit more flexibility in their budgets so they won’t have as much flexibility in their budgets.

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