Catholic board facing larger funding shortfall than public one

As a result of recent changes to provincial funding for education, the Northwest Catholic District School Board will face a shortfall for the coming school year—and likely much larger than the $1-million deficit the Rainy River District School Board has to deal with.
“It’s a little bit disheartening for us,” Mary-Catherine Kelly, education director for the local Catholic school board, said yesterday.
Though the board has not yet completed its calculations, preliminary numbers indicate it may be short as much as $1.9 million.
About $830,000 of that can be attributed to declining enrolment while the remaining $1.1 million is due to the changes in the provincial funding formulas.
As previously reported by the Times, the local Catholic board is projecting a drop in enrolment of 83 students across its five schools for the 2006-07 school year.
“We’re declining faster than we had anticipated,” Kelly noted. “That really has an impact on our overall budget.”
In a 10-year projection of enrolment, the board had figured an average drop of two percent a year. In reality, though, some schools have dropped as much as five percent in one year.
Coupled with changes to the provincial grants typically awarded to rural and remote schools, the board is facing a drop in funding from two fronts.
“It’s kind of like a double-whammy,” Kelly said.
She said she met with other members of the board’s administrative team on Friday to see where they could make cuts to the budget for the coming school year.
“We’re not prepared to make any reduction in staffing at this time,” she stressed.
Staff for the upcoming school year generally are hired before the end of the previous one.
As the province released its budget information only recently, it is too late for boards to change staffing levels, though Kelly admitted it will be reviewed next year.
The board was able to make cuts to items like professional development, furniture and equipment, conferences, computers, and leadership training, reducing the deficit by $400,000.
“We always look at the human element, so we give the best service to the students,” Kelly explained.
The board remains over budget by $1,593,000 for the coming year, however. Those funds will come out of its reserves.
“We will have a balanced budget,” Kelly pledged. “But you can’t carry a deficit and depend on your reserves year after year.”
While pulling funds from reserves will save the board this year, cuts may be more dramatic next year if the province doesn’t restore some of the funding for rural and remote schools.
In the meantime, the Catholic board will join other boards in Northern Ontario that face similar deficits in voicing their concerns to Queen’s Park.
“We’re going to try to lobby the government as best we can and let them know what the impacts actually are,” Kelly said.