Lower enrolment costing schools

Despite a nearly $1-million cut in funding due to decreased enrolment, the Rainy River District School Board passed a balanced budget for 2004-05 during a special meeting here Monday night.
The board has lost about 116 students since last year, which translates into a $1 million reduction in funding.
“Our enrolment drives all of our funding,” Chief Financial Officer Laura Mills explained to the board during her budget presentation. “We’re dropping steadily, particularly in the elementary panel.”
Of the 116 students lost since last year’s projection, about 86 were elementary students and another 30 were secondary students. The board has seen a decrease of 358 students over the last five years.
Mills noted this is largely due to a low birth rate in the district and to a large number of families moving away.
Chairman Dan Belluz said this is having a profound effect, adding a loss of 116 students does not necessarily mean cost savings for the board.
“We’ve lost these students one here and one there. When a class of 20 drops to 19, we don’t save on a teacher or on heating costs,” he noted.
Still, the board was able to balance its budget, in part due to new funding the Ministry of Education introduced earlier this year.
Under the new Liberal government at Queen’s Park, Junior Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be required to have no more than 20 students per class.
While this cap is being phased in slowly, school boards across the province received the first grant to begin the process this year.
The local public board, for instance, will receive about $96,000 to cover the cost of reducing class sizes.
Mills noted the board’s schools already average 19.31 students per class across the primary grades. The projected average primary class size for the 2004-05 school year is 18.9 students.
The province also introduced a new transportation formula, which will be phased in over time, as well. This year, the board will receive an increase of $200,000.
Once the formula is fully implemented, the board will see an increase of $850,000. Until then, however, it will continue to see a $400,000 deficit in transportation funding.
The ministry has not yet decided how long the phase-in period will last. Over the next year, the ministry will consult with school boards on how to best implement the formula.
The local public board also is receiving an additional $100,000 for an energy retrofit initiative. These funds will be used for upgrades to Rainy River High School, as well as Huffman School and Robert Moore School in Fort Frances.
Most other envelopes saw a funding increase of two percent.
The ministry only released 70 percent of the education budget late last month, with school boards across the province waiting for the additional 30 percent to be released.
This funding will cover special education, literacy and numeracy by age 12, the “Good Places to Learn initiative” (for school maintenance and improvements), and the “Success for Students” initiative (to lower high school dropout rates).
“Special education is a major concern for this board in 2004-05,” said Mills. “$980,000 is not included in our funding that we’re presenting you tonight [Monday], but neither are the expenditures.
“The board has put their trust in the ministry to give us the money we need,” she added.
Withholding the funding means the board cannot yet hire the staff it will need for special education programs for the upcoming school year.
While some board members expressed concern over this, Education Director Warren Hoshizaki was optimistic, saying the board is prepared to take action as soon as the ministry releases the funds.
“As soon as we get it, we’re ready to move on,” he noted, adding the ministry should have the figures by early to mid-July.
Also included in the 2004-05 budget are continued supports for reading recovery, speech language, full-day senior kindergarten in Atikokan, four living and learning classrooms, assistants in some schools to assist with multi-grades (such as McCrosson-Tovell and Nestor Falls schools), the anti-bullying program, supports for small schools, the mentoring program, and staff development.
Also at Monday night’s special meeting, the board approved a motion to dispose of the following surplus properties in accordance with Ontario Regulation:
•Sixth Street School;
•Alberton Central School;
•Minnie Avenue in Fort Frances;
•100 Cedar Cres. in Atikokan; and
•Abbott Road in Atikokan.
Mills explained once the board declared these properties as surplus, it first must offer to sell them to co-terminus school boards, local colleges and universities, local municipalities, the provincial and federal governments, and the Ontario Realty Corp.
These organizations then would have 90 days to respond.
“If no one responds, we can put the property up for sale to the public,” Mills noted, adding all properties must be sold for fair market value.
The board currently is having a property evaluation and appraisal report done on the Alexander MacKenzie, Sixth Street, and Alberton Central school properties, which is expected in early July.
The board has decided not to declare the MacKenzie property surplus at this time—even though the school is closing this month in favour of the renovated J.W. Walker.
“It was determined the Alexander MacKenzie School may have a possible use and the committee will investigate further needs and partnerships,” the Fort Frances facility review committee said in the minutes from its last meeting.
The next regular public school board meeting is slated for Sept. 7.
(Fort Frances Times)