Teacher, EA shortage reflected in last year's Burnaby school district budget

The Burnaby school district has closed the books on another school year further in the black than expected.

The district ended 2017/18 with about $4.7 million more than projected in its amended February budget, according to audited financial statements presented at a public school board meeting last month.

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An extra $780,000 in revenues (coming from slight increases in government grants, international student fees, investment income and rental fees) combined with nearly $3.9 million less in expenses (due mostly to lower than anticipated costs for salaries, benefits, services and supplies) last year.

Instead of having to dip into reserves to balance the budget, the larger-than-expected operating surplus allowed the district to add just over $1 million to its reserve funds.

The district’s accumulated surpluses now stand at more than $12 million, with about $7 million already earmarked in restricted funds and just over $5 million left in unrestricted funds to “try to balance future year student enrolment change fluctuations,” according to secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill.

The district spent about $1.6 million less than expected on salaries and benefits last year largely because it was unable to fill some teacher, education assistant and support staff positions, Horswill said.

For the same reason, the district spent about $476,000 more on substitutes, he said.

The district was unable to fill about seven teacher positions and also struggled to fill EA spots during the year, according to Horswill, forcing school officials to move EAs around and sometimes bring in teachers on call for extra support.

“It is an increased cost for sure,” Horswill said, “but we need to provide the support if we can’t get the EAs.”

A 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision that restored class-size and class-composition provisions to B.C. teachers’ collective agreement sparked a need for more teachers and EAs provincewide.

To address the EA shortage in the Lower Mainland, the Burnaby school district launched its own full-time education assistant diploma program this summer.

The first cohort is set to graduate in November.

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