Enrolment shortfall leaves OCDSB in a bind

·2 min read

A marked drop in enrolment has Ottawa's English public school board staring at a possible $24-million budget shortfall, and that could mean fewer teachers and larger classes, trustees heard Tuesday night.

Elementary enrolment at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) fell 1,700 below projections this fall, with kindergarten-age kids accounting for more than half of the shortfall. There are also 183 fewer high school students than anticipated.

OCDSB uses enrolment estimates to calculate its annual budget, but the pandemic has complicated matters as many families decided late in the game to keep their kids out of the public school system altogether.

"As a result of the late shift of enrolment it's been more difficult this year than other years to confirm actual enrolment," superintendent Janice McCoy told trustees.

Not a normal year

With fewer students than expected, the board suddenly has less provincial money than it was banking on. In a normal year, that means shuffling staff at the beginning of the year, but this is not a normal year. Trustees heard 40 elementary positions and 13 secondary positions are affected.

"Reconciliation of staffing and enrolment is normally achieved through reorganization, either to add classes where the enrolment is higher than projected, or to reduce or combine small classes where the enrolment is lower than projected," OCDSB staff wrote in a memo.

"Although not impossible, a reorganization to reduce by 40 classrooms would create a significant level of disruption to students and staff," McCoy told trustees.

McCoy said the reorganization could lead to larger class sizes at some schools, but said the board will wait until a break in the school year to implement any changes.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC
Matthew Kupfer/CBC

The board's superintendent of facilities and chief financial officer, Mike Carson, said the board does have some extra COVID-19 funding at its disposal.

"We are looking very carefully at how we use the dollars that have been provided, to help maintain stability in the system," Carson said.

Carson said the OCDSB isn't the only board facing an enrolment shortfall: the Toronto District School Board has 6,000 fewer students than anticipated, he said.

Submitted by Amy Boughner
Submitted by Amy Boughner

Amy Boughner chose to home-school her fifth-grade daughter this year because of worries about COVID-19.

"Last year, when they switched to virtual schooling after March break, [Maggie] found it a real struggle," she said.

Boughner said she carefully considered the effect her decision would have on families whose kids are attending school, and on their teachers.

"It was a really hard decision for everybody, and we talked about it at work and we talked about it with friends," she said. "Parents were put in a really tough situation."