School district expecting strong student growth

The Sooke School District expects to hit new growth benchmarks this year, surpassing 9,100 students and an $80 million budget.

The SD 62 board passed its 2011/12 operations budget last week. It expects to hire more teachers and support staff in September and is focusing discretionary spending on technology and staff development.

SD 62 treasurer Dave Lockyer said the district didn’t have to chip away at the narrow band of funds not already dedicated to salaries and benefits, typically the vast majority of the budget. The district started only $40,000 in the hole, mainly due to frozen transportation funding.

“We took a new approach,” Lockyer said. “We looked at what was good, what was worth re-enforcing and what added support. We had expansive consultations.”

Among spending priorities, the district is dedicating money to update technology in classrooms and for succession planning to avoid the loss of institutional expertise that comes with retirements.

Lockyer noted the per-student provincial funding formula, while not perfect, allows the budget to grow as students flood the district.

“The funding formula favours growing districts. That’s why we have no cuts,” he said. “We shuffled the deck for areas of focus.”

Based on property development patterns in Langford, Colwood and Sooke, Matrix Planning’s 2010 report predicts the district will absorb about 4,700 more students over 15 years.

“If we are getting 150 to 200 more kids each year, that is huge. We have turned the corner and are ramping up,” Lockyer said. “It’s enough to build one school per year for the next 15 years. It’s shocking from that point of view.”

SD 62, Colwood and Langford have been pressuring the Ministry of Education to fund a plan to build two new high schools, based on selling Belmont secondary property. In February the ministry said it might only fund one new school, possibly scuttling years of planning.

The province has funded a series of eight modular classrooms and building expansions, adding 19 classrooms, for SD 62 to make way for full-day kindergarten and easing immediate pressure due to growth.

The Sooke School District’s relatively upbeat budget comes in sharp contrast to the neighbouring Saanich School District, which is $2.8 million short and passed an unbalanced budget in protest. The Saanich district is seeing a net decrease of students

An unknown cost heading into the new school year is the impact of the April B.C. Supreme Court ruling that struck down legislation dictating parameters on class size and composition.

“It may take several months to figure out what the impact is and what we may be forced to do,” Lockyer said. “If we are forced to make classrooms smaller, we will be looking to the ministry to fix it financially. It’s the ministry who put us there.”


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