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Increased budget 'good news' for school board

Budget, more than a half-billion dollars, includes more money for special education, First Nations students
Simcoe County District School Board - Picture

Trustees and staff are calling the Simcoe County District School Board’s budget a “good news” document.

The $589,255,000 operating budget for 2018-19 was approved at the board’s meeting Wednesday night — a 3.34 per cent increase over the previous year.

Jodi Lloyd, trustee for Orillia and Ramara, was pleased to learn there are no layoffs as a result of the budget; rather, more staff will be hired to meet some of the board’s needs. For instance, funding for First Nations education will increase by about $6 per student. It’s not a massive increase, she noted, but said any money for First Nations education is welcome.

“We’re seeing an investment, which is good,” Lloyd said. “Our First Nations students are still not achieving at the level our other students are.”

The budget also includes a big boost for special education, allowing the board to add three educational assistants and four behavioural coaches, and increase the availability of psychological assessments for students. The board employs four psychologists and a senior psychologist, each of whom conducts about 40 assessments per year. To meet demand, the board also outsources some assessments.

“The ministry recognizes that all boards would like to be able to do more assessments,” said Chris Samis, superintendent of program and special education. “When budgets increase, it gives school boards a chance to invest more.”

School operations funding did take a hit, however, to the tune of about $472,000.

Robert North, trustee for Wasaga Beach, Penetanguishene and Tiny, questioned what impact that would have.

“It is going to put some additional pressures on us,” said Brian Jeffs, superintendent of business and facility services, but he added, “We’re going to be able to absorb those costs.”

If enrolment increases beyond current projections, the provincial funding that comes with it could help, he said.

Enrolment for 2018-19 is expected to go up — from 36,336 to 36,746 at the elementary level and from 14,988 to 15,232 at the board’s secondary schools.

Staying with special education, the budget includes money to repurpose a social skills classroom to be used to support students who have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

The increase in the special education budget drew a sigh of relief from Lloyd.

“We were worried about special education,” she said, noting the demand for its services is high.

She also liked the idea of hiring 12 guidance counsellors at elementary schools. Students transitioning from elementary to high school face tough choices in terms of what courses to choose, and guidance counsellors help them with those decisions.

The board's adult and continuing education budget was also bolstered, with about $746,000 more going toward literacy and numeracy for continuing education.