Board diverting surplus into schools

The Rainy River District School Board approved a motion Tuesday night to reinvest its year-end surplus into schools, effectively injecting $2.1 million into 11 projects to improve student success and to upgrade school facilities.
Laura Mills, the board’s chief financial officer, presented the board’s audited financial statements for 2003-04 at Tuesday night’s regular monthly meeting here, reporting an operating surplus of $2,015,686.
Mills said there were various reasons for the large surplus, including the late release of special education funding from the Ministry of Education, an increase in miscellaneous revenues including interest and tax certificates, and retirement gratuities that were under budget.
The board moved to allocate the surplus funding into three reserves (classroom, pupil accommodation, and working funds), giving the board a total of $4.3 million in reserves.
In a second motion, the board on Tuesday night agreed to reinvest $2,111,000 into supports for students and schools. The money will be divided up between 11 projects.
The first is Support for Achievement Schools, which will receive $125,000.
Linda Hill, assistant superintendent of education, noted that while the board’s schools are performing well on EQAO tests, three schools in particular are having difficulty reaching their goals.
These extra funds will go to Huffman, Crossroads, and North Star to provide extra supplies, as well as to hire a literacy and numeracy consultant to help students there improve their scores.
Some $30,000 has been earmarked for “Aboriginal Success,” to continue a literacy program at Fort Frances High School for struggling adolescent readers.
Meanwhile, $300,000 has been set aside for school instruction supplies and textbooks. “We will ask principals to identify the areas of most need,” explained Education Director Warren Hoshizaki.
Another $250,000 will go into a special reserve fund to begin major renovations at Donald Young School in Emo.
“This will be the next school to have a major renovation,” Hoshizaki said.
“We’re looking at technology in the classroom. We’d like to bring that school up to the standard we have in other schools like J.W. Walker,” he added.
The largest piece of the pie—$800,000—will go to Rainy River High School to convert the electric heating system to natural gas.
Other funds will be allocated to Innovation Projects, technology in schools, special education training, transportation, maintenance repairs, and maintenance facility renovations.
Mills noted the net financial position of the board is a deficit of $6,340,532, but she explained this is because school boards now are required to report their finances according to public sector accounting standards.
“It’s not an operating deficit,” she stressed.
Also at Tuesday night’s board meeting, Superintendent of Education Terry Ellwood reported the ministry approved a project submitted by the Northern Ontario Education Leaders (NOEL) to encourage students to stay in school until age 18.
Ellwood noted the ministry has considered mandating students stay in school until age 18 rather than 16, and had asked school boards to come up with programs to further that goal.
He said the student success leaders from NOEL were able to meet and put the proposal together in 10 days.
The ministry set aside $18 million for approved projects, of which NOEL will receive $1.5 million.
Ellwood noted Thunder Bay District has about three percent of the students in Ontario, but will receive more than eight percent of the available funding.
The program is aimed at students in Grades 7-12, of which there are about 1,200 in Rainy River District.
The project will have several components, including later literacy support, an alternative education program so potential school dropouts can continue their education “in a flexible, culturally-based program,” and a component for students who already have left school but who wish to complete their education.
Ellwood said more components to the program will be revealed at a later date.
The program will begin Feb. 1 and run until Aug. 31.
Also at last night’s meeting, the board:
•commended the staff, students, and parents of J.W. Walker School in their commitment to building school community;
•reviewed the average elementary class size report and found it is compliant in all regulations; and,
•watched a demonstration of special education assistive technology.
The board’s next meeting is slated Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. at Robert Moore School here.