If the cost of building the “multi-use” facility gets too high, the local public school board may have to pull funds out of other areas of its budget to cover them.
That’s the message education director Wayne McAndrew brought back to trustees last night during the Rainy River District School Board’s regular meeting here.
McAndrew, along with other directors of education, attended a meeting Monday in Thunder Bay to discuss the new funding model the province announced last month.
One of the more heated discussions at the meeting was the fact the province has thrown out the old capital funding system for new schools and renovations, replacing it with a per pupil grant.
But the government neglected to tell directors just how much each school board will get, noting a fully-detailed plan will come out “in the near future.”
“You’ll get a certain amount of money in a ‘special’ envelope [each year],” McAndrew said. “So if you want to do an expansion, renovation, or any new schools, you have to do a business plan based on those figures.
“And because we don’t know what those amounts are, we don’t know if we’re in trouble,” he added.
Crossroads School in Devlin, and any other school completed by the end of 1996, do not fall under the new capital funding project so the board will continue to receive grants to help it pay for the debt against the school.
But the “multi-use” facility under construction at Westfort does fall under the government’s new plan, meaning the board is responsible for getting a debenture on the open market by itself.
More importantly, McAndrew said, the ministry clearly has indicated school boards going over the yearly capital funding “allowance” from the province won’t receive extra funding to cover the added expenses.
“They say if they funding pressures are too great, we’ll have to take it out of different places [in the budget],” McAndrew said, although the ministry wouldn’t say which parts of the budget they could take it from.
“But this is all speculation without the numbers,” he added.
Capital funding wasn’t the only concern the local public school board had with the new funding model. Regulations for the next school year’s budget are tightly maintained over a series of about 20 mini-budgets.
“There’s a whole pile of restrictions,” McAndrew said. He noted to move funds from one mini-budget to another was almost impossible in many cases, and that trustees had many “road signs” to look out for to explain what can and cannot be touched.
One major change is how money will be handed out for building upkeep and heating expenses. Before, schools received operating and maintenance money by the amount of square footage there was in the building.
Now, schools will receive that funding on a per pupil basis, which is fine when schools are filled to capacity. But a school designed for 500 students that only has 250 could be in trouble.
“So we’re going to have to take a very serious look at closing some schools?” trustee Dean McLean asked.
“It seems the number of schools we’ll be operating will be determined by the government,” replied board chair Gordon McBride.
McAndrew said he wasn’t sure, noting it would seem silly to close a school if the result was a busing cost which was more than the cost of keeping it open.
But he did say the board had some very “tired” buildings which would be very costly to revive.
“I don’t think the government is ready to answer that question yet,” McAndrew said.