May 30, 2019 --
The Board of Education for School District No. 57 (Prince George) approved a balanced 2019-2020 annual budget at the Tuesday, May 28 regular public meeting. The budget for the coming school year is $172.7 million.
The budget provides a sustainable level of service to students. There were also surplus funds available to provide additional sustainable resources in support of student learning.
"I really think this is a budget that we as a district can be proud of," said Board Chair Tim Bennett. "I think there is still of course a greater need than what we're able to fund and I think that's where we as a board need to continue with our advocacy.
"I think it's no secret that our community right now is watching how taxpayer dollars are being spent very closely and I think this is a budget that will hopefully show the community that we are utilizing their taxpayer dollars as best as we can and stretching every dollar to provide the best possible education for our students."
The 2019-2020 annual budget includes the following resources in support of student learning, in addition to those provided in the 2018-2019 budget:
- District-led Mental Health Literacy rollout to assist with prevention, early recognition, intervention and reduction of stigma associated with mental illness;
- Support for two additional teaching Vice Principals to provide school-based leadership and support of student learning in rural communities;
- Support for an Education Assistant mentorship program in the district to ensure staff are appropriately trained and students are receiving the supports they need;
- An increase of Aboriginal Education Workers for each elementary and secondary school;
- An increase of two Aboriginal Education Social Workers;
- Addition of two Aboriginal Vice Principals, one to support Aboriginal Language and Culture and one to support academic achievement;
- Additional support to the Facilities Services Purchasing department.
Through the use of prior-year operating surplus, the Board of Education supported a three-year commitment to implement a Student Services-led mental health pilot project aimed at capacity building – providing the appropriate tools to school staff to deal with the daily challenges they face – with a focus on strategies for mental health literacy and learning. The financial commitment for 2019-20 is $350,000.
"It's a project that looks at supporting our students with mental health and early identification of mental health concerns," Bennett said. "So it is a real good news story for the district that we could invest significant dollars in supporting our student mental health."
Also through the use of surplus, the board supported a WiFi upgrading project that will see improvements in technology infrastructure at every school in the district. Total cost of the project is estimated at $980,000. Of that amount, $700,000 is covered in the 2019-20 budget and the remaining $280,000 will be funded by previously-acquired grant money.
"I'm really happy with the money being invested back into our WiFi infrastructure," said Bennett, adding that the goal is to complete the work in one year. "It's something that we've heard loud and clear from students, from parents, that the WiFi is not adequate in our buildings. Our teachers do an incredible job bringing the new curriculum to life but don't necessarily have the resources in our buildings to do that. The fibre optic is there but the WiFi infrastructure, as we've heard, is from 2011."
Other projects that will be funded out of operating surplus are:
- Continued support for the multi-year acquisition of modular units to replace the aging modular infrastructure in the district;
- Replacement of two portables in the district, based on most pressing need;
- Support for ongoing capital improvement projects identified in schools to enhance the learning environment for students;
- Continued support of projects to conserve energy by monitoring and reducing energy consumption.
"It is a good news story when you talk about the surpluses that have accumulated over the years and the way in which we can use those surpluses to equip students in our classrooms with some good strategies that have been proposed and the board has agreed we should be moving forward on," said Board Vice Chair Sharel Warrington. "I believe we are in a financially healthy situation in our board and in our school district and that is largely because it's been very efficiently run over the years. When we were in declining enrolment we were asking our departments to cut. We needed to find dollars wherever we could and it's very refreshing to now have some stability where we can look forward and use those surpluses to the advantage of our students."