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School board budget rises despite enrolment drop

Higher teacher costs, all-day kindergarten fuel $16M increase

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Hamilton’s public school board will spend $16.1 million more in the coming school year, including to fully implement all-day kindergarten, despite an overall cut of 52 jobs as a result of school closures and declining enrolment.

A $524.7-million budget approved by trustees on Monday boosts spending by nearly 3.2 per cent, with $12.2 million of the additional money going toward higher teacher salary, benefits and sick-leave costs.

But it also provides an extra $500,000 for special education and $3.25 million more for busing, textbooks and supplies, computer upgrades and health and safety improvements.

Trustee Judith Bishop, chair of the board’s finance committee, said the “fiscally prudent” budget includes savings from the first stage of school closures and the construction of new headquarters near Lime Ridge Mall.

The closure of Hill Park, Prince Philip and Parkview schools in June will cut $2 million from last year’s budget, while the new Education Centre will save $770,000 by consolidating staff at one location, she said.

But school closures are also contributing to a $1-million increase in busing costs, as is a new program strategy that will allow students to attend high schools outside of their catchment for specialty courses.

Bishop said although overall spending is going up, this mostly reflects a provincially negotiated one-per-cent pay increase for elementary teachers and higher costs from completing the five-year rollout of full-day kindergarten.

The kindergarten program is projected to increase enrolment by 1,247 students, adding 62 teachers and 40 early childhood educators.

That’s nearly enough to offset a decline of 1,258 students in other grades that will eliminate 46 elementary and 38 secondary teaching positions.

The budget cuts 36 other instructional positions, including five principals and vice-principals as a result of school closures, and 34.5 non-instructional staff.

“We began with quite a deficit and we’ve had to work to balance this budget,” Bishop said, noting her committee started deliberations in January and met weekly since March. “(It) allows us to continue where our priorities lie, which is in classroom instruction.”

According to a staff presentation, salary increases will account for $7.7 million in additional spending, a figure that also reflects the end of legislated provisions that forced teachers to take three unpaid days off this year.

Benefit costs will jump by $1.2 million, while the board will spend an extra $3.3 million on temporary teachers.

Human resources superintendent Pat Rocco said the latter costs reflect that teachers have taken more sick leaves since the province ended their ability to bank sick days and mirrors a provincial trend.

Trustees also approved a capital budget that will spend $14 million on school repairs and $50.7 million on 10 other major projects, including the first phases of new Mountain and lower-city high schools, and an $8.7-million addition to Dundas Valley Secondary School.

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