By ANDREW STUCKEY
The good thing about mistakes is you can learn from them.
I made a mistake Tuesday when I wrote about the 2016/17 Okanagan Similkameen School District budget. What I learned from that mistake was quite interesting.
I initially suggested the School District stood to lose up to $2 million in revenue if Osoyoos Secondary students opted for educational experiences beyond the SD53 umbrella.
However, I learned not long after that article was published that nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the District likely will lose nowhere near that amount, even if every OSS student — all 230 of them — stayed in Osoyoos and attended an independent school, enrolled in home-schooling or found another way to complete their education outside Okanagan Similkameen.
The reason: the District is subject to provincial Funding Protection.
To quote the Ministry of Education, “Funding Protection is an additional amount provided to eligible school districts to ensure that districts are protected against any funding decline larger than 1.5% when compared to the previous autumn.
“Funding Protection is determined by comparing the total recalculated operating grants from the autumn of the previous school year to total autumn operating grants for the current year. For districts where declines exceed 1.5%, Funding Protection will provide additional funding in an amount that ensures the year-to-year decline is no greater than 1.5%.
In short, what that means is no matter how many students — or FTEs — the school district loses next September, the most its basic operating grant funding will be cut is 1.5%.
The District is already projecting a decline in student enrolment of 29 FTEs (36 when adult FTEs are included) which means it is already well on the way to achieving Funding Protection. According to my calculations, the District would have to lose 34 FTEs — or just five additional OSS students — to realize the Funding Protection threshold.
Let’s do a little math. If 100 Osoyoos students determined not to attend South Okanagan Secondary, but rather enrolled in another program — say an independent school in Osoyoos — the School District would stand to lose $716,600 in basic operational grant funding. However, because of Funding Protection, the loss would be limited to about $243,000 — except that the District is already down 29 FTEs (or $207,814) in expected funding decline.
That suggests the actual loss to the District for 100 OSS students would be about $36,000.
So what about those 100 Osoyoos students? If they enroll in another public system, the Ministry would fund their enrolment at the basic $7,166 rate. That means the Ministry could pay up to an additional $716,600 in basic operational grant funding.
If those 100 students were to enroll in an independent program, the cost to the Ministry would be halved — to about $358,300.
Added to the funding already paid to SD53, the Ministry stands to have to pay up to $1.19 million in basic operational grant funding if Osoyoos students find homes in other public system programming instead of the initial $514,616 it would have paid if Osoyoos students remained in the SD53 system.
What that means is the Ministry of Education — through funding provided by taxpayers — would eat the difference between what it originally paid and what it will end up paying — up to $513,426.
The Province will claw some of that back in administrative savings, but it still will be on the hook for about $400,000.
It’s not a great deal for provincial taxpayers, but it certainly works out well for the Okanagan Similkameen School District.
The District will have 100 less students to educate — and one less school to operate. But it would still have up to almost $400,000 in funding to distribute among its remaining schools.
Granted, Osoyoos Elementary will share in the windfall, as will schools in Cawston, Keremeos and Okanagan Falls. But if the funding were distributed evenly, about 43 per cent of it would end up in Oliver.
We’ve talked about what the District could do with the $400,000 it stands to realize if just 100 Osoyoos students leave the system.
Now stand back and imagine for a moment what it would receive if 200 of its students decided to skip out from under the umbrella.
It’s unclear how funding protection would be applied in subsequent years, but it’s not far-fetched to suggest the District would realize similar benefits for several years until its FTEs normalized.
If that’s not enough to make you wonder just how stupid this system is, there’s more.
Because Osoyoos Secondary School is closing, South Okanagan Secondary achieves a Small Community Supplement if its population falls below 635 secondary students. It does that because there are no other secondary schools within 25 km of it. (Remember, Osoyoos is now closed.)
The funding formula is complex, but with South Okanagan’s current student population at 431, if less than 204 Osoyoos students determine to attend, the District will realize additional funding — to be spent again, you guessed it, in Oliver.
It’s a nominal amount until you get to about that 100 mark (100 Osoyoos students not attending). Then the District will receive almost an additional $100,000 in funding.
Add that to the $400,000 the District could receive in Funding Protection and suddenly $352,000 in strings-attached Town of Osoyoos funding just isn’t the incentive Osoyoos Council might have thought it to be.
Finally, there’s the side deal the District signed with local teachers.
Almost all Osoyoos Secondary teachers are guaranteed positions at SOSS through at least December 2016. That means for at least the first semester, SOSS will have ample teaching resources and small class sizes.
I’m the last person to suggest any Machiavellian effort on the part of SD53 administration and trustees.
In fact, the District’s behaviour over the last weeks since the school closing decision — well, at the school level at least — is one of concern and invitation. Just ask the kids: SOSS has done everything it could to make them feel right at home.
But, hey, we’re all human and I have to imagine more than a few smiles have crossed a few faces as this unexpected bonus presented itself — especially with all the phantom “conspiracy, bias and illegal acts” the Osoyoos community supposedly visited on the school district.
Andrew Stuckey is owner and publisher of the Osoyoos Daily News.