School district on the hook for tech funding after province-wide enrolment surge

First enrolment increase in nearly two decades has drained province's $55 million reserve fund.

  • Jan. 14, 2016 5:00 p.m.

The first province-wide enrolment increase in nearly two decades has consumed more than $55 million in funding, some of which was intended to help school districts upgrade their Internet and online infrastructure.

It means the Abbotsford school district will have to find around $690,000 to cover its share of the cost of implementing the province’s mandated “Next Generation Network” aimed at giving schools quicker and more secure internet.

Every fall, the ministry of education holds back a certain amount of funding for school districts, so that it can make adjustments after enrolment counts are verified in December. Last year, the Abbotsford school district received $1.8 million in such funding, although sums are usually less than that. Although the district does not factor the funds into its budgeting, last year the money helped it mitigate what had been projected to be a substantial deficit.

This year, however, the holdback fund set aside by the province won’t cover the cost of thousands of new students that have flooded into classrooms across the province.

Abbotsford, which saw an unexpected enrolment increase of 232 students, turned out not to be the only school district to surprised by an influx of dozens of students. According to the district, enrolment across B.C. has risen by more than 6,700 the first increase since 1997/98. Those enrolment jumps have been credited, in part, to increased migration from other provinces. And the increase means that the province must now find a way to pay to educate all those new students.

According to the Abbotsford school district, the increase has been so dramatic, that the province has completely depleted its holdback fund set aside to cover such situations, forcing it to kick in millions more in operating grants.

It also means that the $19 million in holdback funding the province had intended to be used for the implementation of the Next Generation Network has disappeared.

Asked to provide comment about the consumption of the fund by thousands of new students, a Ministry of Education spokesperson would only say that the province was still analyzing the impact on funding from enrolment number, adding: “We will be releasing more information in the near future.”

 

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