Cash for rural schools slashed by two thirds by province

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Even thought the Lambton-Kent District School Board will spend $30 million more this year, rural schools will likely still feel the pinch.
The board has approved a $291.11 million budget for the next school year. That’s up from $260.37 million last year.
Much of that increase is due to big rebuilding projects in Lambton County. Superintendent of Business, Brian McKay, says the board will spend about $19 million repurposing St. Clair High School in Sarnia and another $6 million adding on to Wyoming Public School.
In both cases, the board received funding from the province after closing one school and moving the students to another location.
McKay says the board will spend a total of $32.7 million for capital projects in the 2017-2018 school year – up from $14.1 million last year.
About $8 million of the extra dollars is due to what the board says in a news release is “modest wage increases and support for staff professional development; class size investments for full-day kindergarten and Grades 4 to 8; and support for special education.”  This school year, the board will spend $214.9 million in wages and benefits. That compares to $204.6 million last year.
McKay points out the local board had no control over the salary increases as the province took over all salary negotiations across the province this year.
McKay says the board will also benefit from an increase in the per pupil funding rate of 1.03 per cent – that will bring in an extra $4.8 million for the students that are there.
But with enrollment continuing to drop – another 400 students less in September – the amount of the grant is actually dropping.
And McKay says the province has changed the way it funds rural and remote schools. “the 2017/2018 school year is the third year of the phase out of the old system,” he says. “Anything we get going forward is all based on the new funding formula for geography.”
Elementary schools more than 10 kilometres from another school will receive funding; secondary schools will have to be 20 kilometres away to receive it.
“We used to have top up funding (for rural schools) for almost all of our schools; now, it is just a handful,” says McKay.
The Lambton-Kent board used to get $6 million to help rural schools. That’s dropped to just $2 million this year.
“The province got rid of that rural distinction – so now rural doesn’t come into play; its just about distance.”
In a news release, Board Chair Jane Bryce said she was “pleased to approve a balanced budget …as we continue to prioritize investments that support student success, while maintaining fiscal responsibility.”