The New Westminster school district plans to build half a million dollars into its budget to cover the cost of substitute salaries next year – but that amount may not be high enough.
School District 40 is in the process of setting out its 2022/23 budget, and secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham presented a base budget plan to trustees at their April 12 operations committee meeting.
In that plan is $499,000 for substitute salaries to cover absences by teachers and education assistants (EAs).
The increasing need for substitutes has been an issue for the district since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In response, the district created priority positions for teachers on call and casual EAs where those staffers have full-time work with the district, filling in wherever they’re needed on any given day.
That system will continue in the new year, Ketcham noted. The budget, as planned, allows for 10 priority teachers on call and 10 priority EAs, plus an average of 15 more teachers and 12 more EAs each day.
She said the district wants to try to avoid having non-enrolling staff – such as teacher-librarians and counsellors – covering for absent colleagues, as has been happening through the pandemic.
Robert Weston, SD40’s executive director of human resources, said absenteeism continues to be “very high.” On one recent day, he said, the district had 49 teachers on call deployed around the district – twice the number it has budgeted for next year.
Right now, he said, the district is routinely deploying more than 30 teachers on call and 25 substitute education assistants each day.
Weston said the district remains optimistic that number will level off by next school year but conceded its projections may have been “somewhat overly optimistic.”
“If we continue with the trend we are seeing right now, we very definitely will find ourselves replacing more absences each day than we have budgeted for,” he said.
Complicating the issue is the fact that teachers on call and casual EAs will now be eligible for paid sick days, as part of changes to B.C.’s Employment Standards Act.
Those changes stand to cost the district an extra $270,000 a year, Ketcham said.
The district hasn’t yet set its 2022/23 budget.
Trustees will hear feedback from stakeholder groups (including staff, parents and students) and receive the results of a community budget survey at their school board meeting April 26.
That feedback will be considered during budget discussions, and the superintendent will return to the board May 10 with recommendations for next year’s budget.
The board plans to adopt a new budget by the end of May.
The April 26 school board meeting is held virtually via Webex and is open to the public. It starts at 7 p.m.