An issue not much discussed at recent “save our school” meetings, at least in open forum, is the school funding formula. Although little understood it seems, this flawed formula could be the crux of the present dilemma. The reality is our Valley schools are under funded and everyone and their dog has been ducking the responsibility of taking on the monetary burden.
The funding issue was discussed [briefly] at a Town Council meeting last year [sorry – we couldn’t find the reference in the minutes] but our recollection was that the Town of Wolfville pays an amount per student [said, in one reference, to be $1,250 per student] but there had been a request for municipalities to negotiate a change the formula to base funding at least partly on assessments. If the Town agreed to this our education charges would increase. This article gives some ideas of what the impact might be.
The current funding agreement is based on student numbers. However, all other areas in the province base municipal education contributions on uniform assessment. The county has expressed an interest to switch to an agreement based on uniform assessment, citing a concern that the current agreement is impacting negatively its ability to provide needed services to ratepayers.
Switching to the provincial formula would have saved the county over $1 million this fiscal year and Berwick would have saved $38,342. However, Hantsport would have paid an additional $120,893, Kentville would have paid an additional $324,947 and Wolfville an additional $608,234.
There is another problem also – a skew in funding supplements which are not kind to Valley schools with falling enrollments. These policies have been questioned by a number of municipalities.
The town [of Bridgetown] also questioned the Department of Education’s funding formula which is perceived as unfair to AVRSB schools because they don’t qualify under two components of the formula – enrollment supplement and class size supplement. In effect, said the town, Valley schools are forced to use core funding to sustain schools with declining enrollment.
This is explained more fully in this article which quotes Bridgetown mayor Art Marshall, a former school principal.
Provincial and municipal funding to school boards in Nova Scotia is distributed by formula. To a large extent, the formula generates revenues for school boards in various categories driven by student enrolments. The core funding components of the formula provide money for programs, special education, support services, property services, transportation, board governance and administration, school administration, and textbooks. These core components allocate most of the available dollars and appear to be consistently applied to all boards in relation to their respective enrolments. However, two of the eight school boards in Nova Scotia, the AVRSB and the Halifax Regional School Board, do not qualify for funding from two components of the formula, the Enrolment Supplement and a Class Size Supplement, valued together at more than 20 million dollars. [emph ours]
The Enrolment Supplement is provided to offset the effects of enrolment decline in a school board that exceeds an average of two per cent per year over a five-year running average. This provision does not recognize the extreme disparity in school enrolment within a school board such as AVRSB where the Annapolis County schools enrolment is declining at more than twice (4.2 per cent) the eligible rate for supplementary funding. In effect, the AVRSB is denied supplementary funding and is expected to use money from the core funding components to sustain schools with declining enrolments when other boards in Nova Scotia with declining enrolments are not.
The Class Size Supplement provides an additional $10.6 million to school boards who have average class sizes below the provincial average. AVRSB does not qualify for this funding. When the baseline was established for Class Size Supplementary funding, the Annapolis Valley and Halifax Regional School boards had the highest average class sizes in Nova Scotia. For AVRSB, efforts to maximize the benefit of education dollars in the past have created an uneven playing field in relation to current eligibility for additional funding from this pool money.
A third pool of money, a type of top up fund to help school boards bridge year-to-year budget shortfalls, amounts to more than $53 million annually. Although these dollars are not included in the formula funding, they are allocated proportionally according to the formula. This extra funding further increases or compounds money for boards who qualify for the two categories of supplementary funding. [emph ours]
A fair share of Enrolment and Class Size supplementary funding alone would provide several million additional dollars to the AVRSB annual budget. This amount of money would have a significant impact on the board’s ability to maintain schools with declining enrolments for years to come. If the Province of Nova Scotia is truly committed to achieving its sustainable prosperity goals for all Nova Scotians, it will re-examine the mechanisms by which resources are distributed and ensure that all parts of the province are able to participate fully. [ Spectator March 4, ’09]
Our school advisory committee members would be well briefed on both these funding problems, one would suppose, and could perhaps shed further light on the details of our situation in Wolfville.
Another question to be asked is – Should any School Board funding come from municipal coffers at all or should all Boards be fully funded from general provincial revenue?