The Near North District School Board has passed a balanced budget of $115 million for the 2004-2005 school year.
Trustees approved the budget Tuesday night at a board meeting in North Bay.
About 30 per cent of the board’s funds have yet to come in from the province, said chairwoman Eunice Saari, “but we believe this money will assist us in at least maintaining the status quo, because this wasn’t an expansionary budget.”
During budget discussions the board voted to purchase 500 new computers instead of the 1,000 recommended by staff. As well the board voted to initiate a utilization study to see how effectively computer use was being integrated into the classroom.
Cutting the computer purchase down saves the board around $400,000, which will be ploughed back into the budget for other uses.
The budget also includes an additional seven elementary teachers to be assigned to help provide smaller class sizes in selected primary classrooms; an additional six elementary and secondary teachers to assist with later literacy and special education; improved transportation services; an increase in the number of educational assistants and child development counselors; $3.8 million for school renewal projects across the district; and $15.9 million for special education programs and services.
Saari said the board is also expecting to receive $1.3 million in Special Education funds from the province, despite concerns from Education Ministry that it could have difficulty coming up with the cash.
"All school boards in Ontario are pushing the province for this and putting the pressure on, and I assuming we’re going to get the money we were promised," Saari said.
Salaries are also a major concern for the board, Saari said, with the contracts of all but one its bargaining units expiring at the end of August.
The province, Saari said, has only allocated two per cent above its benchmark for teacher salaries, but the board has been paying as much as 10 per cent higher than those levels.
"We've been borrowing from all other envelopes to do this so it reduces our ability to provide more programming," Saari said.
Results have been phenomenal
One area of programming the board is determined to keep, Saari said, is full-day senior kindergarten, even though the province has only provided enough funds for half-day.
"The results have been phenomenal and we're again borrowing from other envelopes or from our reserves to preserve full-day senior kindergarten," Saari said.
"And we'll keep scraping to make sure it remains. But that sort of thing can't go on forever."
Saari said the province should update its funding benchmarks for teacher salaries and full-day senior kindergarten, and fully implement the funding recommendations of the Rozanski report.