Changes could cost local school district

Trustees tell ministry the new funding formula could put the district at a greater disadvantage than it currently is

Long-awaited changes to the formula used for allocation of funding to school districts may not benefit the Okanagan Skaha School District.

“There is no new money,” said Ron Shongrunden, secretary-treasurer for Okanagan Skaha. He is concerned the district may lose some of its funding protection under the new model and not get a lot of it back under the redistribution.

And the possible loss of up to $700,000 in funding protection would be a major blow to the district, which is already expecting a structural deficit for the 2012-13 school year budget in the $1 million range.

As K-12 enrolment has declined throughout the province over the past few years, B.C. school districts have been calling for the Ministry of Education to rework the funding allocation formula to make it more equitable. They got their wish last week, as the ministry announced sweeping changes to the formula.

Vulnerable students, small school districts and remote and rural schools will benefit from increased funding consistency and support as a result of changes to the allocation of school district operating grants, according to a ministry press release.

But going through the list of changes, Shongrunden said Okanagan Skaha is unlikely to benefit much from any of the changes.

Additional funding will go towards districts where the number of vulnerable students has increased, supplementing the CommunityLINK grant by $5 million in 2012-13 and $11 million in 2013-14. CommunityLINK (Learning Includes Nutrition and Knowledge) funds support meal and snack programs, child and youth workers, community schools, literacy and the healthy schools initiative for vulnerable students.

That won’t help Okanagan Skaha much, according to Shongrunden, who adds that larger districts may benefit from the redistribution of funds in the CommunityLINK program.

“We won’t lose anything, but we won’t gain anything either,” said Shongrunden. He cautions that he is talking about projections; the ministry won’t be telling the school district what their actual funding allocation is until next year, though he is hoping to see them in the January-February period rather than March, which is the typical time.

The student location factor supplement, Shongrunden said, may be a benefit for districts that are more spread out, but not so much for compact districts like Okanagan Skaha. With transportation funding frozen for several years, the district has already taken steps to make busing as efficient as possible.

The small community supplement, aimed at helping districts cover the costs of operating small, rural an remote elementary schools, is not one that Shongrunden expects the district to qualify under.

Likewise the low enrolment factor supplement. Enrolment continues to drop in Okanagan Skaha — there may be as many as 100 fewer students in the system next year — but with a total school population of over 6,000, the district is well beyond the 2,500-student limit to qualify for the supplement.

At Monday’s board of education meeting, the trustees decided to address these concerns in a letter to the Ministry of Education, pointing out that far from being equitable, the new funding formula could put the district at a greater disadvantage than it currently is.

Shongrunden points out factors like having to pay some of the highest electrical rates in the province, meaning they have to pay some $300,000 per year more for electricity than districts served by B.C. Hydro.

“We have plotted our consumption based on the City of Penticton rates and those of B.C. Hydro, it works out that they are about 40 per cent higher,” he said.

The letter will make it the point, he said, that Okanagan Skaha is already dealing with a $300,000 disadvantage, making the possible loss of $700,000 in funding protection that much more of a hit.