Trustees Balance Budget and Invest in Student Success Despite Challenging Circumstances

Jun 25, 2019

On Monday, June 24, DSBN Trustees put the finishing touches on the Board’s 2019-20 budget. The coming school year’s spending plan is valued at over $476 million. The budget protects front line services for students while investing in programs to support their success.

“This year’s budgeting process was more complex than in years past due the government’s efforts to reduce the provincial deficit,” said Sue Barnett, Chair of the Board and Trustee for Welland. “Due to prudent financial management over the years, the DSBN was in an excellent position to adapt to the changes mandated by the government while maintaining a high level of support for students.”

Grants for Student Needs (GSN) will experience a decrease in per pupil funding from $12,300 to $12,246 in 2019-20. Local Priorities Funding was eliminated in the GSNs. The government also announced it will phase in an increase in secondary class size over the next four years, from an average of 22 students to 28.

“Trustees have produced a budget that is balanced, fiscally responsible, and responsive to the needs of students in our system,” said Kevin Maves, Chair of the Finance Committee and Trustee for Niagara Falls. “Due to a projected increase in enrolment, the Board is in the fortunate position to be able to add staff in the coming year.”

The DSBN is projecting an increase of 764 elementary students in 2019-20. This will allow the Board to add 8.6 full-time-equivalent (FTE) teachers and 12 FTE Designated Early Childhood Educators. The budget also provides for an increase of 16 FTE Educational Assistants to support students with special education needs, with Trustees investing in an additional two FTE itinerant Educational Assistants who will be deployed to fill vacancies at schools on an as-needed basis.

“The secondary panel is where we had to be creative in order to maintain programming for students,” said Barnett. In 2019-20, the DSBN will move 12.5 FTE central instructional support positions back into the classroom to support programming for students. As a result, the DSBN anticipates very few changes to programming, with fewer than 15 classes being combined next school year.

The budget also protects staff positions and programs previously funded by the Ontario government. Measures approved by Trustees include:

  • Funding for secondary ESL teachers, field technicians for outdoor learning programs and educational assistants that were previously funded by the local priorities fund in the GSNs.
  • Funding to continue the Tutors in the Classroom program that was previously funded by the Education Program – Other (EPO) grant.

Furthering the DSBN’s commitment to equity in its strategic plan, the budget establishes a technology baseline program for all schools. “We know that technology plays an important role in learning for both students and educators, yet its use varies across schools,” said Warren Hoshizaki, DSBN Director of Education. “This initiative will ensure that, within five years, all schools will have the same baseline of technology.” The focus of the program will be on mobile devices such as Chromebooks and Windows laptops. This model will be equitable for all students and sustainable for all stakeholders.

In addition to investing in programs and services, Trustees also made decisions to reduce expenditures. “Working collaboratively with senior staff, Trustees identified areas to reduce costs without impacting the classroom,” said Maves. In consultation with the Board’s actuaries, the DSBN anticipates a reduction in Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) claims as well as a realized savings in the Board’s annual retirement gratuity expense.

Although the DSBN was effectively able to adapt to the changing fiscal landscape in the 2019-20 budget, Hoshizaki cautioned that this process will become more and more difficult in the coming years. “We were able to absorb much of the impact of increasing secondary class size by moving central support positions back into the classroom. However, our flexibility to buffer the impacts of these changes is now gone. As secondary class size continues to increase in the coming years, budgeting will become more challenging and we will not be able to avoid more significant impacts to programming for students,” said Hoshizaki.

“We urge the government to work collaboratively with school boards to ensure we can maintain the outstanding programming students have come to expect from the DSBN,” Barnett added.