Public school board passes balanced budget

The Rainy River District School Board approved a balanced budget of nearly $38 million for the 2007/08 school year at Tuesday night’s regular meeting here.
Laura Mills, the board’s superintendent of education, noted the budget is smaller than in years past—largely due to declining enrolment.
Generally, the board’s enrolment drops two-three percent every year. The drop next year is expected to be three percent.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Mills noted.
The largest drop in enrolment is expected at Atikokan High School, with 45 fewer students expected to enrol there in September.
That three percent drop accounts for a loss of about $1 million in provincial grants, Mills noted.
The Ministry of Education has announced some new and enhanced grants, including a First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education supplement that will infuse an additional $300,00 into the public board.
The board also will receive a program enhancement grant of $7,500 per school.
Items that are underfunded in this year’s budget include supply teachers, professional development, library and guidance, and principal and vice-principals.
Any surplus in other areas will be applied towards these deficits.
Mills told trustees some special grants are received after the budget is finalized—thanks to applications for funding by staff.
“There’s a lot of money that comes through the board after the fact that we can’t plan for,” she said.
“I’m really happy with the budget,” said board chair Dan Belluz.
In other news, the board passed a motion Tuesday night to proceed with the accommodation review for F.H. Huffman and Robert Moore schools here.
Back in November, the board submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Education to consolidate the two elementary schools—both of which had been designated as potentially “prohibitive to repair” (PTR) by the ministry.
The designation means the schools are in such a state that it would be less expensive to rebuild them than to repair them.
According to the minutes of the finance committee meeting, the board has been invited by the ministry to proved more detailed information about the proposed consolidation.
Huffman has about 80 students enrolled in JK-Grade 3 while Robert Moore has just under 400 students enrolled in JK-Grade 8. The board reasoned that since Huffman already is a feeder school to Robert Moore, the consolidation was logical.
Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, the board heard a presentation from Dan Bird, vice-principal at Fort Frances High School, and Gary Medicine, FFHS guidance counsellor, about the success of the annual Aboriginal Celebration Week there (May 14-18).
“The school has really embraced it, and they look forward to it,” Bird said.
Activities for all students during the week included pottery-making, lacrosse, bannock-making, a moccasin game, a performance by Native Earth Performing Arts, and a demonstration by a local First Nation artist.
The week ended with a special ceremony marking the 10 banners representing the 10 district First Nations, now hanging in the school’s atrium, and a pow-wow.
“Thank you for all your hard work,” said First Nation rep Gary Allen, who also is chief of Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation (formerly spelled Nicickousemenecaning).
“It’s very valuable for the First Nation communities to have that available to them,” he added.
Medicine noted that most of the ideas for the activities came from the students themselves.
Chief Allen, along with other district chiefs, visited the Circle Room at Fort High and were impressed with what they saw.
“It literally took their breath away, to be in that room,” he said.
Finally, the board heard from superintendent of operations Raymond Roy regarding some of the facility projects that will take place at the schools over the summer.
“The energy retrofit program is well underway,” Roy noted.
Lighting will be upgraded at most of the board’s schools, as well as painting and some floor refinishing.
The communications system will be replaced at Riverview School in Rainy River while a portable building with two high-tech classrooms will be constructed at J.W. Walker School.
The board won’t meet again until the new school year in September.