Nanaimo Ladysmith school district’s international student education program is seeing COVID-19 impacts that will affect budgeting for 2020-21. (News Bulletin file)

International students ‘biggest unknown’ in Nanaimo school district’s budget planning

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ board will look at preliminary 2020-21 budget this week

The COVID-19 pandemic that has interrupted the school year and it’s also interrupting school budgeting.

In-class instruction interruptions have had an effect on enrolment figures as Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools plans the 2020-21 budget, said staff during a presentation at a May 13 business committee meeting.According to a staff report, the number of students from abroad is projected to decrease to 67 from 263, which would mean a revenue decrease to $944,190 from $3.7 million.

The district projects overall enrolment of 14,467 full-time equivalent students in September and Mark Walsh, school district secretary-treasurer, told the committee the international student education program is the “biggest unknown” in the entire budget, with staff proposing “an extremely conservative estimate with respect to enrolment.” The change has numerous impacts on schools, he said, including not only enrolment decline, but potentially fewer teachers to serve fewer students as well as less money for supplies.

“We know that there’s a number of international students that have already paid their tuition and there’s a number of international students that actually happen to still be in the country and so that’s the basis that we’ve made our predictions on,” Walsh said.

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The secretary-treasurer cited a statement from the province, saying there weren’t any layoffs anticipated due to a drop in international student enrolment, but added the district hasn’t received any guidance. It has reached out to the Ministry of Education and anticipates it will be required to plan the way it normally does, he said.

“You can see the direct impacts: $1 million out of staffing, $270,000 not going to schools…” he said, adding that there are some anticipated savings, too. “But what we haven’t proposed is getting rid of the program.”

The district principal, program coordinator, two home-stay coordinators, a language support worker and clerical staff would remain, based on the budget proposal, according to Walsh. If the program is to come back, it needs staff available, he said.

The district will receive $2.73 million in annual facilities grant money in 2020-21, according to the budget report, and $61 million has been budgeted for teachers’ salaries.

In the report, Scott Saywell, school district superintendent, said $200,000 in COVID-19 response fund money has been set aside for related items such as cleaning supplies, increased maintenance and “technology or other supports” that may come up.

School trustees are expected to see the preliminary budget at their regular board meeting Wednesday, May 27. The district anticipates passing the budget in mid June.

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