Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools' 2020-21 annual amended budget projects a $1.4-million operating fund loss mainly due to families choosing online, distributed learning over sending their kids to attend school in person.

The provincial funding rate per student is $1,460 less for distributed learning (DL) than the in-person, or regular, funding rate. Another contributing factor, grades 10-12 students are taking fewer courses, which the district has responded to by adding staffing to help students meet grade level, says a Feb. 10 staff report.

The district projected 137 K-9 students and 59 grades 10-12 students to enrol in DL this school year. The actual enrolment in DL turned out to be 831 for K-9 and 81 for grades 10-12. The province's regular per student rate for 2020-21 is $7,560, $6,100 for DL and $250 for homeschooling. Fifty-five students switched to homeschool.

Enrolment estimates determine provincial operating grant estimates. The changes in enrolment meant the actual operating grant NLPS received from the province this year was $133,578,580, nearly $1.4 million less than what was budgeted based on enrolment projections. Final enrolment isn't known until Sept. 30 of every year.

On the revenue side, NLPS received $5.48 million in federal and $1.07 million in provincial COVID-19 funding. The district also received a $1.23 million increase in classroom enhancement funding. Some of those funds have been used to add teaching, custodial and education assistant positions.

Secretary-Treasurer Mark Walsh said at this time of year, Q2, it can “be really difficult to predict” what the fiscal standing of the district is. At this point, the district has collected 51 per cent of revenues and spent 43 per cent of expenditures.

“By the end of Q3 we're going to have a very good sense of, if there is a surplus, where that surplus would be,” Walsh said at the Feb. 10 business committee meeting. Travel budgets, for example, have not been spent.

For 2021-22, projections place 73 per cent of DL students returning to brick and mortar schools, but uncertainty remains in part due to the potential of the province's vaccine schedule falling behind.

“Given what we are seeing with respect to the provincial take on the expectations for September and what the medical professionals are telling us, we don't want to be overly pessimistic and impact a whole bunch of school cultures - we don't want to remove teachers if we don't absolutely have to,” Walsh said.

In March, the Ministry of Education announced the per-student rates for the 2021-22 school year and school districts will calculate next year's operating grant estimates.

The British Columbia School Trustees Association's Feb. 22 provincial council meeting included a motion to increase the DL funding to match the regular per student amount saying the current rate “does not provide sufficient funding to staff the programs to meet the criteria and accountability required for personalized quality education for the students.”

A decision on the motion was not available as of press time.