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Grand Erie school board approves $338-million budget

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The Grand Erie District School Board has approved a 2021-22 operating budget of $338 million, an increase of $4.6 million over the previous year.

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The capital budget for the next school year has been set at $24.5 million.

The board includes about 25,000 students at 58 elementary and 14 secondary schools in Brantford and the counties of Brant, Norfolk and Haldimand.

Rafal Wyszynski, Grand Erie’s superintendent of business and treasurer, said this is the second year development of the budget was challenging due to uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Decreased enrolment, the introduction of a virtual learning environment, lockdowns, staff and student technology deployment, implementation of quadmesters, increased cleaning and disinfecting, and a three-month school closure to end the school year are the major contributors to a volatile and unprecedented school year.”

Wyszynski said the budget that was presented for the 2020-21 school year shifted by November 2020.  Additional funding was introduced by the Ministry of Education to hire more teachers and custodians, cover additional cleaning and sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment, invest in the improvement of heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, and stabilize funding to offset a significant decrease in student enrolment, he noted.

“Senior administration has again developed a budget with certain assumptions regarding reopening Grand Erie schools for September and, as with any plan, risks are inherent,” said Wyszynski. “However, senior administration is more confident this year that the carefully crafted plans being proposed will allow staff and students to return to a more normal school year.”

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Funding for education in Ontario is driven by a provincial funding formula. Each year, the Ministry of Education allocates funding to school boards through Grants for Student Needs and the Priorities and Partnerships Fund.

Funding from the province through the Grants for Student Needs in 2021-22 is projected to be $12,686, an increase of $152 from 2020-21.

Wyszynski said this year’s GSN includes updates for COVID-19 supports, online learning, additional funding for technology resources, and mental health supports.

The board’s COVID-19 funding includes:

  • $1.95 million for teachers, early childhood educators, custodians and other staff to support smaller classes, physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and remote learning.
  • $431,000 for enhanced health and safety measures in student transportation.
  • $254,000 to help school boards re-engage students and for reading assessment.
  • $184,000 to extend ventilation system operating times and replace filters more frequently.
  • And $169,000 to support school-based mental health.

Projected enrolment at Grand Erie schools in 2021-22 is expected to be 25,496, a decrease of 251 students, mainly at the elementary level.

Despite lower enrolment, the board used multiple funding sources to reduce the number of elementary teachers by just two, said Wysznski.

The budget includes the hiring of nine secondary teachers, 19.5 full-time educational assistants, a principal leader of Indigenous education and equity, a special education technology teacher, an equity instructional coach and an executive assistant to support senior administration.

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The budget also allots almost $1.4 million for technology, including:

  • $436,000 for 2,800 computers, as part of a multi-year device replacement plan for students and staff.
  • $390,000 to complete a broadband modernization program.
  • And $289,000 for new software.

The Grand Erie’s 2021-22 capital budget of $24.5 million includes:

  • $19.75 million for school condition improvement, such as security system upgrades, asbestos removal, HVAC upgrades, paving, roofing, window and door upgrades, and classroom modernization.
  • $3.9 million for the Community Partnership and Incentive Program, the Pride of Place program, interior finishes, curriculum renovations and accessibility upgrades.
  • And $1.5 million for technology purchases, equipment and furniture replacement, and vehicles.

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