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COVID-19 costs still ‘unknown,’ says SCDSB superintendent

Public board passed $617-million 2020/2021 budget on Tuesday night
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Trustees approved the Simcoe County District School Board budget last week, which rings in at $617 million for the 2020/2021 school year.

While board chair Jodi Lloyd, who represents Orillia, Ramara and Severn townships, said the budget was very “status quo” compared to the previous year, she asked if there was any concern from board staff that there aren’t sufficient resources to cover off potential increased costs due to COVID-19.

“That’s an unknown,” said Brian Jeffs, superintendent of business and facility services. “I can tell you, since the end of March, we’ve realized some significant savings in absenteeism, and those savings will be redirected toward costs in the current year. We’re looking at acquiring additional technology, internet connections where necessary and personal protective equipment.”

“At this point in time, our preliminary numbers show... we’re probably going to be OK. It will depend on how long this goes on,” he added.

Lloyd also asked about additional mental health supports promised by the province, and whether the board anticipates more funding coming in for those services.

Jeffs said the Ministry of Education has provided the public board with an additional $500,000 for such services, which will go into the hiring of five additional staff to provide mental health supports, however the board does not anticipate anything further from the province on that front.

Trustees got a first look at the preliminary budget back in May, however the budget ratification was delayed due to the province’s delay in providing the board with grant allocation numbers due to COVID-19. The province didn’t provide the numbers until June 19.

Major school capital repairs listed in the budget include $1.5 million for interior and mechanical renewal at Eastview Secondary School, $1 million for mechanical, electrical and roof replacement at Cundles Heights Public School and $850,000 for a washroom renewal at Innisdale Secondary School.

The board will spend $2.6 million on temporary accommodation for portables and external leases board-wide.

Trustee Sarah Beitz, who represents New Tecumseth, asked if the board has received any funds from the province in order to implement the new math curriculum that is planned to be in place by September.

“We do get math money, which we’ve received for the past several years,” said Jeffs, adding that the board typically gets about $750,000 per year for math but that the amount was down a little bit this year at $730,000.

Director of education Steve Blake said there are always some additional costs associated with a major curriculum change, and that board staff would be preparing a report over the summer to approximate exactly what the cost of the new math curriculum would be.

“We’ll be able to give a complete breakdown of the differences and supports in the fall,” said Blake.

Overall, trustees were in agreement that there were no big surprises in the budget, and voted to pass it.

“The economic fallout to the pandemic issues, we don’t really know. To me, this budget... looks like a fairly stable funding situation,” said trustee Donna Armstrong, who represents Innisfil.

To access the public board budget, click here.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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