Meeting of Chairs of District School Boards with the Minister of Education and with Greetings from the Premier

Liz Sandals, Parliamentary Assistant of the Minister of Education

December 14, 2006

One of the most significant responsibilities that you have as a board and therefore as a chair leading your board through the process is in fact when it comes to setting the board's budget. In many ways it is more difficult then when I was a Board Chair, which was back in the early 90's when I was a Board Chair. And you are going to think that that has got to do with availability of money, well actually that is not what I was going to say, because if you think back to the early 90's we were having a recession, we were dealing with social contract which means we were dealing with staffing declines. It wasn't necessarily an easy financial situation but the advantage that I had when I was a Board Chair or working on a Board Budget Committee back in those days was that on one side of the room I had the people who were telling me to spend more. The unions and parent representatives typically saying, "You need to invest more money on this". And on the other side of the room I had people from the tax payers coalition and when we were in a recession people saying, "I just lost my job, I am going to lose my business" so sitting in the room I had the whole spectrum of attitudes about how you should spend public money. After all you are elected by the full spectrum of people who vote. But you don't have that today; we actually have sort of a split. What you have in your board room is one side of the story. You have in your board room the people who want to make sure the programs that you offer are really well funded and serve the students really well. The people who want the pressure on restraining the spending are actually still sitting in my office but now they are sitting in my office as an MPP. It makes it, in very many ways, much more difficult for you to arrive at a balanced budget. Not in the sense of, "do the expenditures match the revenue?" But also a balanced budget, in the sense of all of the viewpoints within the community are heard, because you are actually not hearing all the viewpoints anymore.

Let's look at what has actually happened in the last few years. If you look at the increase in funding it is actually gone up by $2.8 Billion since 2002/2003 which represents a 19% increase in the last few years, which is obviously significantly above the level of inflation. If you look at per pupil funding you will see that it has also increased significantly above the level of inflation, in fact even more so. Per pupil funding on average has gone up 21% per pupil over that same time period. So, again, the increase has actually been significantly above inflation. If you look at where those investments have actually gone, some of it has obviously gone into government priorities, but a significant amount has actually already gone into restructuring the funding model. I think there is, again, this sort of attitude often that the funding model looks like the funding model looked like in 2002/03. In fact that is not true. There has been incremental change each year in the way in which the funding model has been structured. So one of the things that certainly I think every board in the room has said in the best is that teachers' salaries were the one thing where there was a fair bit of uniformity around the province. There is even more, with the framework of the units in place, uniformity. What we have done is updated the teachers' salary benchmark so that they actually reflect what you are actually paying in teachers' salaries, and that is the first time that has ever happened. We also have had historically a number of comments from boards, particularly boards that have a lot of small schools, around the fact that some things you pay for not on a per pupil basis but on a per school basis. The School Foundation Grant has been introduced to recognize those things that you pay for on a per school basis. The capital grant structure that we had previously was under a significant amount of criticism and that has been totally restructured. Again, we already talked about special education and the fact that that has been significantly restructured to get rid of the really labour intensive identification process. The sort of "elephant in the room" of elementary and secondary education is declining enrolment. You can see there what has happened with enrollment in the last few years. As I said before the vast majority of boards in the province are now in a declining enrolment situation. That is not going to change. That's just demographics folks; there are less little kids out there. So unless you can retroactively produce babies, which I think is a bit of a scientific chore, the enrolment is going to go down. Unless you are an extraordinarily high growth area, which probably means parts of Peel, parts of York , and maybe parts of Durham, but other than that declining enrolment will be the norm for most of the province. It varies from board to board the degree of the drop, certainly a lot of our Northern and rural boards have had really quite dramatic decreases. But at the same time staffing is going up, so this is something that we really need to be thinking about is how is it that we are going to manage declining enrolment? There is actually an opportunity here if we learn how to manage declining enrolment well in the sense that if declining enrolment is a fact of life and we can figure out how to target our resources at kids there is actually an opportunity to spend more per kid wisely in a way that actually supports kids better. The concern would be that we are not always doing that. That, in fact, in many cases what we may be doing is putting resources into maintaining the status quo that we had before declining enrolment as apposed to actually dealing with the situation in a way that actually allows us to provide better service for kids, and I think that is something that we are all going to be needing to be dealing with collectively over the next few years. Again, microphones are available and I would, we would really like to hear some feedback.

Male Speaker: This is my second term, so when I came on in the first term the very first thing that I was faced with was declining enrolment. Our board has been very proactive in dealing with the issue of declining enrolment and I just want to touch on some of the things that we have done to set us up to deal with it in this next term. The first thing we did was develop demographic projections not only for the whole board but by school. So we actually have an idea of what our schools are going to look like in 2020 that is the year that we picked. The next thing we did was restructure the way that our superintendents were laid out because there is one part of our board that is a growth area but most of them are not, so that was the second thing that we did. The third thing we did was start to develop our school councils into families of schools and encourage them to work together so that we have groups that we can go to and explain to them the impending changes that are going to come from declining enrolment. The next, the fourth aspect that we have developed is every part, every time that we have a public, where we are presenting information, enrolment and demographic projections are part of it. Now everybody in the board is aware of what is going to happen. We then went on to establish two separate initiatives. One called "Quest 2020" which was to align our staffing with the changes to the demographics, and the other initiative, which is more long-term, is the, we call "Boundary 2020". It is specifically structured to deal with the declining enrolment and it has all of the education components that I touched on, the ensuring that trustees, staff, every staff person whether they are teachers, the administration staff, or the custodians are all aware of the demographic changes that are coming.