Friday, June 26, 2009

More context to DSBN budget woes

Earlier, I blogged about a huge transfer from reserves needed to balance the District School Board of Niagara's 2009-10 budget. That vote left trustees proclaiming every MPP in the district must be contacted to support the board's claims it's underfunded in special education.
First of all, what board doesn't claim it's underfunded in special education? I haven't heard of one claiming it has all the money it needs for this program.
Moving on however, the work by Standard reporter Tiffany Mayer explains how the board feels it's arrived in the shortfall situation, and includes a ministry perspective to balance out that despite declining enrolment, the board's funding across the budget, including in special education, continues to increase.
The ministry knows the plight of the DSBN well and the problems with information it provided the province years ago, ministry spokeswoman Patricia MacNeil said.
She added the board has "indicated" numbers more reflective of their needs but the ministry did its own audit and found "the number of students requiring certain supports were much lower than the board initially thought."
MacNeil said there has also been a shift in how special education is funded, focusing more on improving student outcomes rather then identifying students for funding.
But as the ministry tweaks the funding formula, it disputes that the DSBN ranks so low on the special education funding scale.
"My understanding is they're actually the 11th lowest," MacNeil said, looking at the numbers. "Even trying to compare them to other boards doesn't work.... The funding is intended to meet the actual student populations the board serves and those student populations vary."
Special-education funding for the DSBN has gone up $7 million since 2002-03, she said. The board is also getting a $443,000 increase for September over last year, despite declining enrolment.
"The funding continues to go up," MacNeil said. "The funding continues to be protected from the negative impacts of declining enrolment.... So there's been a lot of work in that one area."
The board claims it's getting stiffed because in the Harris-Eves days, it focused on its neediest students when submitting claims for funding under the former 'intensive support amount' process. Back in that day, boards that could show they had more needy students, and exactly how needy each student was, could receive more funding to support the staffing and materials required to support that student.
Add this to the list for the dog days of summer, given some trustee claims (elsewhere) that special education deficits are a shell game.