Grand Erie District School Board Trustees approved the operating and capital budgets for the 2020-21 school year during a Special Board Meeting Monday night.

“We’re pleased to have delivered a balanced budget that places students at the centre of the decision-making process,” said Board Chair Greg Anderson.

“It allows us to proceed with some certainty during what is otherwise a very uncertain time for all school boards.”

The total operating budget for the 2020-21 school year is $333,662,210, an increase of $11,990,112, or 3.73 per cent, from the 2019-20 budget ($321,672,098). The capital budget includes approximately $30,908,899 to address the major and minor capital needs of the system.

“The budget introduces a number of new initiatives and targeted funding to allow Grand Erie to focus on supporting students through the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Anderson.

The Ministry of Education’s 2020-21 Grants for Student Needs and complementary Partnerships and Priorities Funds will allow for $640,000 to complete the hiring of additional custodial staff; a $270,000 investment in student mental health and well-being; and a $186,000 investment in technology to support greater access to devices for remote learning, among other new measures aimed at meeting unique needs during the pandemic.

“Given the time we’re in, it was important to ensure some flexibility within the budget,” said Director of Education JoAnna Roberto, noting a nimbleness to be able to reduce, defer or shift department budgets into spending that will support health and safety, PPE, cleaning and physical distancing as those needs arise.

“We’ve achieved this while still ensuring strong investments in programs and initiatives focused on equity, well-being, technology, achievement, community and environment.”

Other budget highlights include continued investments in the classroom to support student achievement, as evidenced by an anticipated increase to the Elementary teaching panel by 22 full-time equivalent positions; an investment of $65,000 to enhance the focus on literacy intervention; and an increase of $80,000 to school budgets to help support local school expenditures.

Technology overall continues to see strong investments, with $1 million allocated to complete the Broadband Modernization Program to enhance internet access in rural areas, and $432,000 to continue Grand Erie’s long-term computer purchase plan to refresh technology for staff and students more frequently, with an additional 2,800 new devices expected this year.

Student transportation will see the largest investment within the operating budget. The existing contract is set to expire on August 31, 2020, and Grand Erie will be entering into a new 10-year agreement with transportation providers who will deliver home-to-school services for students.

The additional $1.9 million investment is the end result of an extremely organized and modern competitive procurement process and will see improvements to service levels as well as technological upgrades to buses to increase safety.

The total projected student enrolment for the Board for 2020-21 is anticipated to be approximately 25,747; a slight decrease of 85 from the 2019-20 estimated enrolment of 25,832. There are no changes to elementary class sizes, and the funded average class size reduced from 28 to 23 at the secondary level.

The budgets will be submitted to the Ministry as required by the submission deadline of August 19. For more information, please see the Budget Approval Report (pages 35-40) here.