What is funding protection and how does it impact SD64?
Funding protection is provided to districts that would otherwise have a greater than 1.5% reduction in their operating grant due to enrolment decline, and in SD64, is a direct result of closing Windsor House School in Greater Vancouver. The closure of Windsor House, in July 2019, meant the loss of nearly 210 students to the district’s overall student enrolment. It also resulted in staff and administrative layoffs and other reductions directly related to the operation of the school. Even though the closure resulted in a net savings, the impact of a significant decrease in district enrolment triggered Ministry Funding Protection. This has left the district with a temporary budget surplus. It is this surplus that can be used to improve infrastructure, purchase resources, and support professional development for the benefit all SD64 students.
Funding protection will be reduced by 1.5% per year ($300,000) until the district’s operating revenue aligns with expected revenue from actual enrolment (estimated September 2027). Already in the second year of funding protection, the district has received approximately $2.2 million. If no significant changes are made to operational spending, and as funding protection continues to reduce by 1.5% (300,000) each year, the district will reach the point where the annual deficit and funding protection meet in September of 2024.
How did the district find itself in this deficit situation?
Over the years, the district implemented various strategies to sustain the current configuration. Most notable were the move to a 4-day week, the adoption of Windsor House in Vancouver, and a cross-enrolment strategy that an enrolment audit found to be non-compliant with Ministry funding guidelines. In short, the district must design the provision of education to fit within the resources it, along with all other districts in the province, is entitled to. The new funding formula, published in March 2020 by the Ministry of Education, has enabled the district to reduce shortfall projections by $500,000 from $1.6 million to $1.1 million. The funding formula places value on in-catchment neighbourhood schooling. Because good fiscal planning projects beyond the current year, not addressing the deficit situation keeps the district in financial uncertainty and becomes a greater burden to the students, parents, Board of Education and staff in the coming years.
There have been calls from community to connect with outside industry and the Ministry of Education to help solve the district’s financial difficulties, specifically as they relate to water taxi transportation. Although external assistance would be welcomed, it cannot be counted on. It is important that we work within our means and be responsible in our efforts to find solutions within our control.
Why can’t the district simply run a deficit like other organizations?
All school districts in British Columbia are required through the School Act to maintain a balanced budget. Unlike the province and municipalities, school districts do not raise taxes directly and therefore must only spend what is received through the provincial funding formula.
If we have a surplus due to funding protection, why are we still talking about a deficit?
The annual operating grant is calculated based on the actual number of students attending the district. A stable budget balances the revenue provided for those students with the corresponding expense while allowing for a slight surplus of 3-5%. The current annual budget, based on enrolment revenues and configuration expenses, places the district in a deficit position of $1.1M. This year we received $2.2M of Funding Protection which results in a budgeted annual surplus of $1.1M for 2020-21. Because the district recently spent down surplus dollars to pay for the general operations of the status quo, it is necessary to re-establish those funds. Without funding protection, the district would be in financial crisis.
What exactly are the “opportunities” of funding protection, and how will students benefit?
The opportunities around funding protection are completely dependent on the decisions made around configuration. Funding protection could be used to update curriculum, equip classrooms, purchase arts, music, shop, cafeteria, and athletic equipment, enhance professional development and provide other learning supports.
Why can’t the district simply hire another water taxi when student ridership increases?
It is not financially viable or environmentally responsible to engage an additional water taxi. The costs of additional water-taxi transportation would come directly out of operating funds otherwise used in our classrooms and schools.
How is student transportation funded by the Ministry?
The provision of transportation is not required under the School Act nor is there a section of the Operating grant that is funded specifically for transportation. SD64, along with many other districts that have higher transportation costs, receives a special Transportation Grant of $328,000. This amount has remained consistent for many years. All districts in the Province can choose, like we do, to spend some of their Operating Grant on student transportation. Many urban districts choose not to provide bus transportation. SD64 has chosen to provide student water taxi transportation for high school students to travel from Galiano, Mayne, Pender and Saturna to attend GISS. The district has also chosen to provide school bus transportation on Salt Spring, Galiano, and Pender. As was presented at the Committee of the Whole meeting in September, other districts configure to minimize demands on transportation services by emphasizing neighbourhood schooling.
Does the district plan to charge students for transportation?
Staff were requested to look at many options and scenarios for reconfiguration: how configuration would impact revenue and ways to reduce expenses. Some districts charge a fee to use student transportation. Staff included the option of a student transportation fee to allow for a broader conversation on possibilities.
What kinds of student transportation efficiencies would the district hope to implement?
There are several changes to configuration that would allow for a more efficient and viable transportation infrastructure. Reducing pressure on the student water taxi by limiting ridership to choice in the Graduation Program (grades 10-12 at GISS) would open up space, thereby increasing access to programs such as French Immersion. Closing the middle school on Salt Spring Island would reduce busing needs by one and would result in associated cost savings.
I’ve been told that the District plans to cut French Immersion programs. Is this true?
There is no plan to cut French Immersion programs. If SIMS were to close, the district would have to then consider a different means of program delivery. The district previously provided French Immersion beginning in grade 6 at Saltspring Elementary which is a logical adjustment to consider.
With the potential closure of the middle school, what would happen to the French Immersion program?
The French Immersion program previously operated out of Saltspring Elementary beginning in grade 6. It is possible to return to this approach with a structured entry process that could include entitlements for French speaking families and siblings of previous French Immersion students, and a district-wide lottery for student entry placement.
What are the plans for reviewing special program offerings? Are there potential savings that can be found without cutting programs like French Immersion and GISPA?
Special Programs are understood to be a valuable addition to the core experience of learning. While these programs often exist with additional resources, it is responsible to ensure that programs are regularly reviewed to ensure continued viability. Reviews would include an assessment of student interest, program size, timetabling, and costs of program coordination. In the current configuration modelling, both French Immersion and GISPA have been maintained.
If SIMS were to close next year, how does that impact my child who currently attends there?
If the middle school is closed, students will not be expected to return to their previous elementary school. A single cohort of Gr 7s would have a transition year that provides access to parts of the building while operating as a small school for the 2021-2022 year. At the end of the year, those students would transition into GISS. Current grade 7 and 8 students would go together to GISS in September of 2021.
What will happen to the SIMS building if the school is closed?
The district understands that there is a significant amount of interest in the potential vacant space at SIMS. Actual decision-making would be linked to the school closure process and consultation with the community, local government, and interested groups. Any income generated through rental of the building would be reinvested in district education.
How would students be welcomed into jr. high?
A junior high section at both Pender School and GISS would be created to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for grades 8 and 9 students. A “school within a school” feel would be designed through timetabling, curriculum such as REAL 8/9, and staff that are dedicated to students in junior high. Many schools across the province include host students from multiple grades within the same facility. Our schools conduct annual orientation/transition programs that have proven to be very successful for students and families transitioning to a new school. This practice would be continued in a new configuration.
Configuration Possibilities / Scenarios
I’ve heard that we only need to find $50,000 in savings to keep the status quo (scenario 1). Is this true?
This is not true. To maintain the current configuration, the district would have to: add an additional water-taxi in some years based on the capacity of current boats (to provide for this, an annual fund of $50,000 must be created), cancel ALL busing (Saltspring, Galiano, and Pender) across the district, reduce school funding by $250,000, eliminate boarding allowance for students from Galiano, Mayne, Saturna and Pender, and reduce district supports and staffing by $160,000.
What would a Pender Hub mean for students who live on Galiano, Mayne, Pender, and Saturna?
The current configuration has most students from Galiano, Mayne, Saturna, and Pender attending their neighbourhood school until grade 8. The re-establishment of a junior secondary hub (grades 8 and 9) would allow for increased programming options while taking advantage of the quality infrastructure already in place on Pender Island. The expansion of the high school on Pender Island would allow Galiano, Mayne, Pender and Saturna students in Grades 8 and 9 to access programming that cannot be provided at a smaller neighbourhood school. Given the student population as well as fiscal and environmental barriers associated with water taxi transportation, a Pender hub could provide options in a feasible way. After grade 9, students would have the option to continue their graduation program at Pender Islands School or chose to transition to Gulf Islands Secondary School in Grades 10, 11 or 12. Similarly, secondary students from Salt Spring Island would have the opportunity to attend Pender Islands School for a program that may better suit their individual needs or interest.
I’ve heard reference to “increased programming” and the “many possibilities” for a Pender High School. What are some of these possibilities?
The development of a full-service secondary program on Pender Island has long been a possibility that configuration review provides a pathway to realize. With an anticipated population density of junior and senior secondary students that comprise a small high school, opportunities exist for high quality academic, social-emotional, and extra curricular development.
Students in a grade 8/9 cohort would have a junior secondary experience consistent with that at Gulf Island Secondary School. A focus on REAL 8/9 programming would help prepare students for the academic and social pressures of a graduation program at either school. School leadership at both sites would work together in the planning of this experience to ensure all students develop the skills necessary for success in the graduation program at either school. The expansion of a Pender Jr secondary program would also establish a learning environment that fulfills and extends beyond the goals of the Outer Islands Middle Years program. Students would be afforded the opportunity to build strong social connections with peers from Saturna, Galiano, Pender and Mayne; leading to enhanced transition support while nurturing the individual learning provisions that benefit families in a small school format. A Pender option would mean shorter commutes for parents who can remain highly engaged and involved in their child’s learning. From an access perspective, bringing together the individual identity of each community as part of a broader collective strengthens the unique and special learning opportunities that are presented on each island. A cohort who is together full time would be very well positioned to engage with these learning opportunities in the most effective way possible. These important connections would set the stage in allowing students to be successful with their peers in a graduation program whether at Pender Islands School or Gulf Island Secondary School.
A strong focus on core academics would provide students with the foundational skills and knowledge to be successful in the graduation program and beyond. Increased staffing of up to 5 specialist teachers would provide high quality instruction in their area of expertise. A blend of traditional studies with locally developed courses can provide access and engagement to learning opportunities that serve the archipelago as we dream big about what can be. Unique programming focussed on place-based scientific ecological research in partnership with leading research institutions is aligned with the SD64 strategic plan and community identity across the Gulf Islands. A spotlight on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning and career orientation would provide meaningful pathways to engage learners with purpose. Students learning in this program would be well primed and equipped with the necessary skills to make a difference in our world. These strong academic opportunities would be well complimented by high-end music programs and promising community partnership in the performing arts.
With minimal transportation requirements and no boarding requirements, this dynamic and robust learning environment could also provide an array of extra curricular and sports activities while developing important social emotional skills as part of a broader cohort. Junior secondary teams would have the opportunity to participate in organized sports leagues competing in soccer, basketball, volleyball and beyond. Extra curricular activities would support individual interest and broaden the learning experience within the community.
For any student seeking a highly personalized, academically strong and purpose-driven experience, the Pender Secondary program could provide access and engagement in a world-class learning environment with skilled educators to support. While mandatory for grade 8/9 students from Saturna, Galiano, Pender and Mayne, this program would be available to all secondary students in Gulf Islands school district.
With the possible configuration of a Pender Hub, why would Pender, Saturna, Mayne and Galiano students have to stay at Pender until the end of grade 9? Why can’t they attend GISS at grade 8?
By creating a Pender Hub, the Board would establish a Pender catchment area for grades 8 and 9 for Mayne, Saturna, Galiano and Pender students, and offers all students in the district the choice to attend a graduation program (grades 10-12) at either Pender School or GISS. Creating a larger cohort at Pender School supports a robust and stable learning environment that can allow a program to grow and be invested in. This generates greater revenue to invest in the local neighbourhood schools and supports learning in classrooms. There are logistical and educational positives to establishing catchment areas. Choice would still be available starting one year later than currently structured.
I’ve seen the 5 scenarios being presented. Are these the only options available for consideration?
The Board of Education directed district staff to model a range of options for how the district could be configured and what the financial implications are for each option. The 5 scenarios present differing views of everything, from what it would require to maintain the status-quo to what a junior high program for grades 8 and 9 would mean for transportation and funding, to a scenario where all students receive their education on their home islands from K-12. These scenarios are useful to understand how the configuring of a district impacts transportation, revenue through the funding formula, and facilities.
Why is the Board continuing with this process during a global pandemic?
Although the global pandemic has changed the way education services are delivered during this period in time, our work continues. Similarly, the post consultation work around configuration review continues as the Board considers options for change that are educationally sound and fiscally responsible.
When will there be more public consultation?
The Board of Education has indicated that the consultation phase of configuration review has been concluded. Opportunities for feedback remain and the Board will ensure that decisions are debated and made at their meetings held in public.
Why is the Board considering changes to configuration anyway?
It has been 25 years since this district has reviewed its configuration, and much has changed, since then, in what we know about student learning and educational practice. As times change, we too must adapt, and organize ourselves to best meet the needs of our students, families, and communities.
Senior staff believe that education is best delivered in a stable and predictable environment that provides reliable staffing and resourcing of schools. The current configuration requires SD64 to overspend its annual enrolment-based revenue by $1.1 million. As we work to reconfigure our district for the best educational outcomes, we need to also ensure long-term financial stability and reduce annual spending accordingly. Simply put, without making adjustments to our current configuration, we will not be able to find the necessary savings required to balance the budget.
What are the consequences of delaying the process until a later time?
Delaying balancing the budget erodes the potential benefits of Funding Protection and decreases the district’s ability to update curricular resources, invest in classrooms, and bring much-needed funds to arts, music, athletics and specialty programming.