The Cariboo-Chilcotin School District will finish the year with a $1.5-million surplus, thanks in part to lower enrolment, less spending and fewer staff sick days across the district.
SD27 Supt. Chris van der Mark said district enrolment numbers were down from around 4,592 in September of 2019 to just over 4,413 students in September of 2020. While some of this loss can be attributed to homeschooling prompted by COVID-19, he said it’s part of a larger overall trend the district has seen since 2018.
This reduction, combined with fewer sick days, means the school district spent less last year and will head into the 2021-2022 school year with a preliminary budget of $56.9 million. Last year’s amended budget was $57.2 million.
“We had remarkably less sick time, which is interesting given we were in a pandemic. Sick time is one of our most significant variables in terms of the budget,” van der Mark said. “If you have more sick time obviously your costs go way up, less, your costs go way down.”
The district spent $140,000 on sanitization at local schools this year, and van der Mark said SD27 plans to maintain the increased funding this fall. “If we can spend a bit of money to keep things healthier and keep people at work, that’s money well spent.”
The surplus is a marked improvement over previous years, van der Mark said, and will be added to the district’s operating surplus, currently sitting at $5.4 million. The operating surplus is used to pay for unexpected costs that arise throughout the year.
Meanwhile, another $470,000 has been allocated to modernize the technology used by the district and will be an ongoing yearly investment over the next few years.
This money was largely used to purchase more than 400 new top-end laptops for students and teachers, new projectors for classrooms and improving the bandwidth capacity of schools throughout the district, van der Mark said.
This move to modernize learning had been planned for a while but was expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that remote learning showed how important this infrastructure will be in the future. The commitment has been made annually to ensure that SD27 will not fall behind again.
He said overall the year has been solid on all fronts, with minimal COVID-19 exposures, a successful RCMP training academy, the construction of outdoor classrooms at all of the district’s schools and a robust year-long learning series for educators.
“I just really want to thank our employees and our entire education community for just a massive amount of work in what’s been a really challenging year.”