Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ board has approved a $200-million budget for the 2023-24 school year, but not without concerns about educational supports.
The $200.6-million budget bylaw passed at the May 24 board meeting. Approximately $76 million is budgeted for teacher salaries, close to $14 million for support staff, close to $12 million for education assistants, more than $9 million for principals and vice-principals, and over $5 million each for substitutes and other professionals.
According to the budget document, increased education assistant hours are supported. However, the 312 full-time EAs for 2023-24 are six fewer than the previous school year.
Trustees Chantelle Morvay, Mark Robinson and Tom Rokeby voiced dissent during the budget bylaw’s first and second readings, although only Rokeby voted against final reading.
“We need to make sure that the priority is for students and staff to be properly supported during a mental health crisis and one of the ways we can do this is by increasing EA hours and more EAs in general on a consistent, yearly basis…” Morvay said. “We’ve heard from public engagement [and unions] that EAs are the most requested change in our budget.”
She said with better diagnostic criteria, one in 29 students will be diagnosed with autism and one in 20 with ADHD, and said the district needs to be prepared for that.
Charlene McKay, board vice-chairperson, spoke in favour of the budget bylaw and pointed out what would be needed to change the budget for EAs and recruitment and retention across the board.
“There was a very large report put together by the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association … [it] is based on recruitment and retention and the factors we need to consider as [school boards] in order to look at all positions, including that of an EA,” said McKay. “I think we need to utilize some of that information, along with the proposed changes in this budget and dig in to find more information before we try to make any changes.”
Previously, Mark Walsh, school district secretary-treasurer, said teachers and education support workers’ pay would be budget drivers and 91 per cent of expenses would be staff-driven. This is the highest number of teachers the district has ever budgeted for, he said.
Jeff Virtanen, CUPE Local 606 president, told the News Bulletin he was disappointed in what the budget means for education support workers, and said there could be staffing issues. He mentioned that in the current school year, the school district didn’t have all its EA positions filled until about March.
“We’re constantly understaffed when it comes to it, and the job has changed,” said Virtanen. “Some of our students are challenging, and our EAs are the ones that are having to be on the front lines with them. They love their work, but they’re getting burned out, and there’s not enough of them.”
Virtanen said it is a difficult job to recruit for and so the position needs to be made more appealing.
The school district is projecting enrolment of 14,952 full-time students for September.