School board trustees passed a budget Tuesday evening (April 25) that restores funding for a second peer support co-ordinator, addressing concerns raised by the teachers’ union last week.
The district’s draft budget, released April 13, included $146,000 to retain one of two peer support co-ordinator positions after the two-year funding from the ministry runs out on June 30 of this year.
At the public budget input session on April 18, Delta Teachers’ Association president Susan Yao urged trustees to retain both positions, noting the team’s “care and responsiveness to the needs of educators who have taken on new teaching assignments or who have had other needs in the vital work they do.”
“We are fortunate to have two teachers with the level of skill needed to perform this work,” Yao told the board.
“The two peer support teachers have the time to work one-to-one; to observe teachers in their classrooms; find the gaps within their planning, assessment and classroom management skills; and can model their sound advice for teachers. This is the only program available in the district for one-to-one [help] for an extended period of time, to provide support to teachers who need it.”
Yao also stressed the importance of having both an elementary and a secondary teacher in peer support positions to better support the variety of expectations at different grade levels.
Further, with province-wide teacher shortages and increased illness costs, Yao said keeping both positions would in fact be a “cost-saving, preventative measure.”
“The DTA contends that it is shortsighted of the district not to recognize the value of the teacher peer support program in supporting teacher wellness and retention,” she said.
Like most organizations and businesses since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Delta School District has seen a significant increase in the number of workers calling in sick to avoid spreading illness to others, and with that comes an increase in costs. Through this fall and winter alone, illness costs increased by 30 per cent (an estimated $2.092 million), exceeding the funds allocated in the current year’s budget.
As such, next year’s budget includes an additional $499,000 to reduce the district’s reliance on reserve funds to cover illness costs, paid for using $223,000 of the $1.085-million boost in operating grant funding the district is receiving from the province plus various operational savings.
At this week’s school board meeting, district secretary treasurer Nicola Christ informed the board that, based on the feedback received from the DTA, staff revised the budget so as to keep both peer support co-ordinator positions.
The second co-ordinator will be funded for one year from reserves, and the position will be re-evaluated for effectiveness and availability of funding during the 2024-25 budget process.
The budget, which was passed unanimously, is the first in three years to not have a shortfall, thanks to a 9.4 per cent increase in per-pupil funding from the province (up $740 to $8,625 per child) coupled with a projected increase in enrollment and other funding grants.
This time last year, the district was looking at a $2.748-million shortfall due primarily to a decline in student enrolment, an increase in staff benefit costs, a carry-forward from 2021-22 to repay funds pulled from the reserve, and various other salary-related costs.
The district addressed the shortfall by reducing supply and expense allowances by $297,000, and operating costs by $2.479 million — the bulk of which, $1.772 million, came from a district-wide reduction in inclusive learning staff equal to 26.7 full-time positions, representing about four per cent of the department’s overall $43-million budget.
Board chair Val Windsor said it’s a relief to not have to make cuts again, calling her 12 years of passing budgets a “rollercoaster ride.”
“There have been times when you wanted to cry because of the decisions that we had to make because of lack of funding, last year being one of them,” Windsor said at Tuesday’s meeting. “So I’m glad that the provincial government recognized that our school districts need more funds to pay for ever-increasing costs, and this year unlike last year they followed through with funding.”
“Obviously, had we been given more we’d have been able to do more as well, but we have not had to make some of the cuts that we had to make in last year’s budget, so that is a relief.”
Echoing the sentiments of her fellow trustees, vice-chair Erica Beard thanked district staff and senior leadership teams for all their hard work, especially those in the secretary-treasurer’s office.
“They’ve been mindful, cautious, yet student-centred, and they were able to let us make changes a week before we were to approve the budget. So we really really appreciate that,” Beard said.