Special education funding drops
Local school officials expect a $1.4-million shortfall in special education funding next year despite a steady increase to the number of students needing assistance.
The announcement was a part of a budget planning presentation by Kevin Black, secretary-treasurer for Nicola-Similkameen School District 58, that also shows a $567,000 shortfall in total funding for the year — even with Wednesday’s announced Coquihalla Middle School closure.
“Some of [the funding for special education] is made up through general revenue, by surplus and through decreased services in other areas,” Black said, noting last year’s surplus was $2.1 million. “It’s a pretty big gap where you’re not receiving funding for certain students.”
A total of 125 special-assistance students in the district were identified, representing a small portion of approximately 500 case files.
The students require about $4.4 million, while funding is at $3 million.
The district would need to identify every special needs student to the province in an application for funding. That count may be audited. Each student could generate approximately $9,200 in funding.
Special education students are divided into two categories: those who require part-time support and those who need full-time assistance.
SD 58 Superintendent Bob Peacock noted a change in special assistance protocol.
“When you were going to school, a lot of these kids weren’t identified,” he said to staff and trustees. “More kids with different levels of autism are being identified.”
The number of special education students in the province has increased from 14,763 in 1998 to an expected 23,870 next school year.
The number of regular students has decreased from 602,678 in 1998 to an expected 534,691 next year.
While enrolment has decreased by 67,987, the number of special education students has increased by 9,107.
During the period from 1998, school district spending on special education has increased from about $2.8 million to $4.5 million this school year.
SD58 has 0.41 per cent of provincial enrolment but 0.51 per cent of special education students.
“If we didn’t have a surplus, we’d be hooped,” said Trustee David Laird. “We wouldn’t be able to provide the same level of service.”
The district is challenged by a $366,000 drop in funding due to the elimination of 100 per cent funding protection, which is now 98.5 per cent.
The district anticipates a 130 student reduction in enrolment next year, which represents $881,920 less in grants. However, savings from fewer students would be $404,820, leaving a $477,100 shortfall in that category.
“You can’t run into a deficit, so when we get to that point, that’s when we sit down with the admin team and say, ‘Where are we cutting?’” Black said. “We’re in a fortunate position where we can weather the storm and hopefully things change and we have more students.”
The Ministry of Education anticipates enrolment declines throughout the province until 2016.
In February’s 2012-13 B.C. budget, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon announced a modest 0.6 per cent increase in school funding that would only bump up grants to districts with increasing enrolment.
“It’s a budget that speaks to the times we’re in,” Falcon said at the time.
“We’re taking the approach that we want to maintain the fiscal discipline we’ve demonstrated over the last 10 years.”
Officials with SD 58 expect decreased enrolment in the foreseeable future.