Delta School District headquarters in Ladner. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Teacher shortage causes $5-million surplus in Delta School District budget

The 2017-2018 budget predicted a $2M shortfall, but classroom changes meant there were unspent funds

The Delta School District had about a $5 million surplus for the 2017-2018 financial year, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for students.

According to secretary-treasurer Nicola Christ, who gave an overview of the audited financial statements for 2017-2018 at the school board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 25, the district had some unexpected funds left over from its operating expenses despite a projected $2-million deficit for the year.

The surplus came in large part from challenges in implementing the new collective agreement between the province and the B.C. Teacher’s Federation, Christ said.

“This legislation had significant impact all throughout the province,” Christ said. “All of a sudden more staffing was required in all the various school districts, that caused there to be some unavailability of staffing on the teacher side, the TTOC side, the EA side, and many school districts were left with unspent funds at the end of the year.”

Christ said she has heard of a number of school districts that also ended their fiscal year with surpluses directly related to insufficient staffing.

RELATED: Delta School District approves 2018/2019 budget

Delta struggled to fill its staffing requirements for teachers, which reduced the amount of money the district paid in salaries and benefits. Many of the teachers they did hire were entry-level educators, meaning the average salary was lower than expected.

Because of the influx of positions in all districts, many teachers left long-time jobs at some schools to work in areas which were closer to home.

There were also more teachers teaching on call (TTOCs) working in contract positions, which meant the spending on TTOCs was also lower than expected.

The surplus funds didn’t just come from a lack of teachers — it also came from more students.

The 2017-2018 budget anticipated about 50 fewer students with special needs designations entering the district, resulting in the loss of about 23 full-time equivalent education assistants (EAs). However, the number of students with special needs designations actually increased in 2017-2018, going up by about 117 students from the previous year.

“That of course caused some challenges with very little time to adapt to that,” Christ said. Students with special needs designations come with additional provincial funding, but often also need support from an EA on an individual or group basis.

There was a delay in getting enough EAs to support Delta’s students with special needs, which again resulted in some under-spending over the course of the year. However, hiring has now caught up and this year there are enough EAs for all designated students in the district, Christ said.

Additional surplus also came from unexpected enrollment from international students, which is not a stable or reliable source of income, as the school district reminds trustees and the public in each budget.

Although surpluses in end-of-year financial statements are often seen as a good thing, trustees took a moment during the school board meeting to remind everyone that was not necessarily the case this year.

The surplus came from increased stress on existing staff members, trustee Rhiannon Bennet noted in her comments to the board. And as many trustees pointed out that evening, surplus dollars from under spent staffing is not a good source of operating income for the future.

“It would be fair to say that none of us wanted a surplus like that,” trustee Val Windsor said. “The only reason we had the surplus is because we couldn’t get the qualified people to take those jobs. Had we done that … there would have been less stress, less confusion all around.”

“Who knows what this year is going to bring. Hopefully not the confusion of last year, but it still worries me.”

According to Christ and other senior staff, the district is better prepared for this coming year, but there are still challenges ahead.

“We can’t sit back and be too comfortable,” director of human resources Rod Allnutt said during the meeting. “Many of the same fundamentals are there at the beginning of this year as were there at the beginning of last year.”

There continues to be a larger movement of teachers between districts than they could have expected before last year, Alluntt noted, and there still is a huge need for teachers to fill classroom positions.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say its decimating TTOC lists,” he said. “We’re going to have difficulties filling those positions and we’re going to have gaps.

“The numbers are lower, things are not as challenging as they were last year,” he continued. “But I think all of the same factors are there.”

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