Delta’s enrolment has only increased by seven students since last year, although the number of special needs students has increased by more than 30. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Delta’s special needs student enrollment increases despite predictions

Last April, the Delta school district anticipated a decrease in special needs students

Student enrolment numbers recently released by the provincial government show that Delta has seen an increase in the number of special needs students, rather than the decrease projected in the 2017-2018 school district budget.

The September 2017 enrolment count showed 1,049 special needs students in Delta, compared to 1,012 last school year.

In April, the school district anticipated there would be 930 special needs students come September, meaning a $1-million decrease in funding compared to the 2016-2017 school year.

To compensate for the decreasing enrolment, the district elected to cut just over 23 full-time equivalent (FTE) education assistant positions.

Related: Delta School District to reduce education assistant positions in upcoming budget

“Over the years, when our enrolment has increased, even though we’ve had budget reductions as a district, … all of that [additional funding] was put into special education,” district secretary treasurer Joe Strain said back in April 2017, when the draft budget was first proposed.

“In the same way, because we’re seeing a reduction, we’re saying that needs to come from the program where it occurred as well.”

However, the new numbers mean the Delta school district is actually receiving about $1.6 million more than was projected for the September enrolment of special needs students, Strain said, bringing the total funding for those students up to just over $16 million.

According to Strain, this has allowed the Delta school district to hire back some of the education assistant positions that had been lost because of the projected decline in enrolment.

Strain said the district has spent the entire increase on support staff for students with special needs. The district has hired 12 FTE education assistants and five FTE child and youth care workers, who work with children who have emotional, social and behavioural challenges.

Overall enrolment has also increased this year, although the number of additional students has been smaller than expected: only seven total.

This means the district could expect to see about $2.4 million less in funding than anticipated.

Strain said this is because the district expected higher enrolment for this year, and created its budget appropriately.

Even with that previously-expected $2.4 million, the district still anticipated a $2-million budget deficit, which it balanced using reserve funds, revenue from the international student and continuing education programs, and staff and supply cuts.

There will be two more enrolment counts to determine the final amount of funding: one in February and one in May.

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