School district dips into reserves to ‘stabilize’ budget; early international enrolment spikes 70%

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With possible precipitation in the forecast, School District #43 is reaching for its rainy-day money.

To balance its budget, the school district is set to chip in $3.75 million of accumulated reserves, $1.3 million from the education stabilization fund as well as savings from the closure of the sick leave benefit plan, according to a recent financial report.

The district is grappling with a host of financial pressures including a shortfall in grant funding, according to the report, which also noted the “continued lack of funding for inflation.”

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However, the school district has also seen a boom in terms of international students, according to assistant superintendent Gerald Shong.

“In the grand scheme of things this was actually unprecedented growth,” Shong told the school board during a meeting Tuesday.

In the two previous school years, the district enrolled 933 and 977 international students, respectively. However, the school is currently home to 1,635 international students – an increase of approximately 71 percent from the previous two years.

International students pay $16,500 in annual fees. However, that money isn’t in the bank just yet, explained assistant secretary treasurer Nita Mikl.

“These revenues, of course, won’t be finalized and confirmed until our second semester enrolment,” she said.

In total, the district has about 31,330 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 – approximately 795 students more than anticipated for this year.

The district currently has 307.9 full-time teachers – five more than last year.

Discussing the higher-than-expected enrolment, school board chair Trustee Michael Thomas asked if the district had enough teachers.

“It’s one thing to have the students, but do we have enough teachers to put in front of the students?” he asked.

While Shong credited the district’s human resources department for “exceptional work” of bringing teachers into the district, he acknowledged certain limitations.

“There’s only so many teachers out there in the province,” he said. “We, like everybody else, really could use more.”

The primary concern is teachers-on-call, according to schools superintendent Patricia Gartland.

“It’s really the TOCs that we continue to recruit and recruit,” she said.

Finding staff has been challenging “in an already tight market,” due to the high cost of living in Metro Vancouver as well as a sizable increase in student enrolment, according to a district report.

Overall, the district is: “anticipating a cautious neutral financial outlook for the year,” according to the first quarter financial report.

Related: Following layoffs, 24 teachers now back in the classroom

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