COVID and its additional costs are largely responsible for the $3.9 million deficit expected by the Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
On September 14, Superintendent of Finance Tim Ellis shared with trustees the third quarter financial report which ended May 31, 2021.
“This is the first opportunity that I have had to break the numbers to you as we don’t meet in the summer,” Ellis said. “Our actual revenue was lower than our estimates.”
Ellis also detailed that budgets for classroom technology, staff sick leave, maintenance, supply coverage and support for special education students learning at distance were in some cases well above what was budgeted for last year.
“The expected deficit of $3.9 million is just below the 2 percent provision. We can use 2 percent of our accumulated surplus to a maximum of $4 million to cover additional COVID related costs,” Ellis said.
Report confirms driver shortage
Every day more than 13,000 Trillium Lakelands District School Board students are transported to area schools by the 321 buses that are contracted by the board.
This year there are real issues regarding the availability of drivers and buses to cover all the available routes before and after school.
Superintendent of Finance Tim Ellis told trustees on September 14 that, “Bus drivers are at a premium right now. Our operators are working to get as many drivers as possible behind the wheel. This is presenting a real challenge right across the province this year.”
Trustee Judy Saunders wanted to know what the board is doing to make sure all students are being picked up and transported to school on board contracted buses.
“New students may need to wait upwards of a week to be added to driver’s manifests,” Ellis said. “All students will be given transportation, but it will take a little time.”
When queried about the cause of the shortages, Ellis said “Some drivers have chosen not to get vaccinated and some have chosen not to drive this year.”
Saunders continued her questioning, wanting to know whose responsibility it is to communicate with families about students not yet getting on the transport manifest.
Ellis said, “It is up to the schools to communicate with the parents unless a whole bus doesn’t run, and then communication with parents is on the operator.”
Saunders asked if buses that are currently arriving late for school because of doing two runs in the morning can be better coordinated.
Ellis is hoping that routes without drivers will be staffed over the next few weeks as the operators interview for potential drivers.
Student trustee Ryder Lytle asked about the status of late buses that transport students who stay after school for help or to participate in afterschool activities.
“If late buses don’t run,” Lytle said, “students can’t join sports.”
“This has been discussed,” Ellis replied. “We are engaging in dialogues with various parties looking for solutions. This is a significant challenge with the existing buses that we have access to. How do we get students home from practices and transport them to their games? We are looking at many options.”
Enrollment numbers creating problems
Superintendent of Finance Tim Ellis told trustees on September 14 that enrollment is up across both panels, but that until more provincial funding is made available there may be issues with crowded classrooms and not enough spaces on board contracted buses.
Ellis reported that last year the board estimated they would have approximately 11,000 elementary students when doors opened for business on September 7. In reality the board has found themselves with approximately 11,500 to 11,700 students enrolled at the elementary panel depending upon the day.
At secondary, numbers are also up approximately 100 students with the bulk of the increase found at I.E. Weldon in Lindsay and Huntsville High School.
Trustee Stephen Binstock wanted a breakdown on which areas of the board are growing, “because 500 kids are a lot of new kids.”