A further anticipated decline in enrolment for the upcoming school year is expected to put School District 67 (SD67) in a tough financial position, which will likely result in layoffs.
An anticipated 14 to 16 teaching staff will not return to work in the fall. Both the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Okanagan Skaha Teachers Union (OSTU) representatives are aware of the potential layoff numbers, but discussions surrounding affected departments have not yet taken place.
More than 100 students didn’t show up for the 2019/20 year and a further reduction of 187 students is expected for 2020/21. According to funding models from the Ministry of Education, based on enrolment, this will cost the school district an estimated $1.25 million.
This information was presented to the school board in a regular meeting on April 27 by Eileen Sadlowski, who was hired short-term to help the district in building their budget.
SD67 chair James Palanio hopes the district can achieve the decrease in teaching staff through attrition, a natural cause such as retirement, but they won’t know for sure until the first week of September.
“There should, in theory, be close to enough teachers [retiring]; we’re needing to reduce the numbers by roughly 15, give or take,” said Palanio. “We may be close to that, but every year is different.
“The ones that don’t make it, if for whatever reason we have to lay some off, that based on the contract they’d sort of be on the top of the on-call list.”
That being said, if layoffs are necessary, he theorized high school teachers will most likely be the group affected. Some programs with low enrolment may be cut.
“English 11 is offered in block A, C and F, and maybe block F gets cut off just because the numbers aren’t there,” said Palanio.
He said these decisions will depend on what numbers look like, going forward.
“For whatever reason that it’s [the school year] loaded with grade seven’s, then I guess you’re moving teachers from a high-school level. But we won’t know those numbers until into the summer… really it’s going to be unknown until the first week of September.”
Palanio explained, the district hired on anticipated enrolment numbers at the beginning of the current school year. The budgeted numbers by SD67 didn’t pan out and classrooms were already occupied with students, so SD67 couldn’t realign.
“Based on what the actual numbers were, we probably could have got away with half a dozen fewer teachers,” said Palanio. “But at the end of September, you’re not going to walk into a classroom and eliminate that class, because that’s just far too disruptive.”
Instead, SD67 kept their instruction levels close to what they originally planned for, and will make necessary staffing adjustments in fall 2020.
This year, the decline warranted a reduction of approximately seven staff, so this will be added to next year’s reduction of about seven or eight staff, meaning the school district will layoff about 15 at once.
As to what’s causing the continued decline in enrollment, Palanio isn’t sure.
“We’ve been wondering about that, too,” he said. “No, it’s not like there was a major manufacturer that closed down. People have been hypothesizing it was possibly the contractors from the hospital have all left, I don’t think that’s the case.”
Speaking from his experience as a realtor, Palanio referenced several projects and developments in Penticton underway, family projects, with units sold as they’re built.
“It just seems perplexing why they’re (numbers) not there,” he said.
Asked if the general public will notice a difference in next year’s services as a result of the declining enrolment, Palanio said students will not.
“Within the classroom, the children should not see a difference in the classroom,” he said. “The supplies budget will be less, but it will be proportionally less to account for the reduction of students. You will very likely see an adjustment made to the number of teachers in our system.”
The district was already in a tough financial position given the unanticipated shortfall this year, but Palanio said they have been able to save money in some areas this year.
Due to COVID-19, the school district did not incur as many expenses this year, which they anticipate will allow them to end the year with a higher-than-normal surplus. This will help to offset the $1.25 million shortfall.
“We haven’t been replacing any teachers that have called in sick,” said Palanio. “And also there’s been a little reduction in some of the CUPE time as well. And of course, supplies just not getting used.”
Also, he said going forward the school district is focusing on rebuilding their capital reserves, which have been depleted.
News of what will come as a result of the anticipated further decline in enrolment, Palanio said is unfortunate, especially now.