Bluewater board discusses unique challenges of doing budget during pandemic

·2 min read

BLUEWATER DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD – The report presented by Andrew Low, financial services, to the Bluewater District School Board’s business committee Jan. 5 demonstrates “the board’s ability to be flexible in the face of uncertainty.”

The report stated the budget was done in the summer, on a “business as usual” basis before school started.

But business was far from usual, due to the pandemic. Impacts of COVID-19, as outlined in the report, included decreased enrolment for both elementary and secondary students. About 400 fewer than expected elementary students registered for in-person or remote school, and 80 fewer secondary students. This isn’t a local phenomenon, but has been felt province-wide. Many of the elementary students were in the younger (JK) age group, where school attendance isn’t mandatory.

This resulted in reduced funding. The province has reduced the impact with stabilization funding.

Personal protective equipment and an increased need for cleaning supplies had no financial impact – it’s supplied centrally at no cost to the board.

The introduction of remote schools meant an increased need for technology, administrative support and temporary classroom teachers. Costs were offset through Priority and Partnership Funding (PPF), as were costs associated with enhanced protocol for school transportation, special education and increased custodial hours.

The pandemic meant a decrease in community education and permit revenues, and an increase in costs due to higher absenteeism, partly offset by PPF funding.

Revised estimates indicate a negative financial impact due to COVID-19 of about $10 million, offset by response funding of $8 million.

Uncertainty continues about COVID-19 and potential funding gaps, which could require the board to draw on contingency reserves. This creates the need for “budgeting conservatively.” However, the board’s financial position remains strong for 2020-2021, according to the report, with a projected contribution to contingency reserves of approximately $3 million.

As stated in the report, “The board’s focus to ensure student achievement and well-being remains our highest priority.”

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times