By Rita Marshall, Special to Advance-Times
Years of school closures have allowed the Avon Maitland District School Board (AMDSB) to balance their budget, says the board’s vice-chair.
Randy Wagler told trustees at their June 26 that although difficult, the AMDSB was able to balance its 2012-2013 budget thanks to its practice of closing and merging schools with low student numbers.
“While those have been difficult choices I think they’re paying off in our ability to maintain and enhance in the face of budget cuts,” he said.
The board’s 2012-2013 budget shows $4.7 million less in provincial grants and allocations than they received for the 2011-2012 year. The total amount of grants and allocations for this year will be $193,678,640. Next year the board is expecting $188,970,626.
The board balanced their almost $200 million budget partly through the elimination of 48 positions across the board, including administrators, teachers and support staff.
The AMDSB has 1,635 permanent, full-time equivalent positions, as well as temporary staff.
Superintendent of business and treasurer Janet Baird-Jackson said that some of the eliminations came from school mergers as well as declining enrolment.
She said the effect on individual schools would be proportional to how much of a decline in enrolment the school is experiencing.
Trustees heard that board staff is projecting a 2.53 per cent enrolment decline, specifically 2.43 per cent in elementary schools and 2.55 per cent in the secondary schools.
The projected average daily enrolment for the 2012-2013 year is 15,193.53, almost 400 students less than the current year’s estimate of 15,588.06.
Wagler said the board’s secondary schools are now experiencing the wave of low enrolment that elementary schools faced years before.
Baird-Jackson said AMDSB elementary schools are faring a bit better in enrolment thanks to full-day kindergarten and school mergers.
Full-day kindergarten staffing was one of the places the board expanded on. Wagler said the board’s budget also allows for additional teaching staff for elementary preparation time coverage and the expansion of a literary support program in the board’s high schools.
“The balanced budget here is not a slash-and-burn kind of budget. Rather, it’s a conservative budget that protects students,” he said.
The board calculated salaries in the budget using the province’s proposed wage freeze figures, although premium increases for fringe benefits were increased.
Baird-Jackson said that about 81 per cent of the board’s budget is taken up by salaries and benefits.
Trustees approved the board’s 2012-2013 budget of $192,774,581 in operating revenues and reserve transfers and $192,774,581 in estimated expenses.
And while school closures may have put the AMDSB in a better financial situation than other boards, there aren’t any accommodation reviews planned for the near future.
Trustees learned in an information report, presented in the June 26 committee of the whole meeting, that another accommodation review in the 2010-2014 term is “unlikely, although not impossible.”
As for whether low enrolment will mean the amalgamation of the AMDSB with another board, director of education Ted Doherty said that the Ministry of Education is consulting with senior staff from school boards across the province. He said that he and Baird-Jackson would meet in London next week with ministry officials.
The ministry will then meet with school board chairs across Ontario.
Doherty said there would likely be “some announcements” on the issue before this Christmas.