Shortfall of $3.6 million for Surrey schools?

The Surrey School District could be facing a $3.6-million shortfall after the provincial government announced unexpected changes to the way it funds high school students.

“All the sudden, the rules have been changed,” said a concerned Trustee Heather Stilwell at a board meeting Thursday evening. “For us, it’s going to be more than a few dollars.”

An Oct. 18 letter from the Ministry of Education to district secretary treasurers throughout B.C. announced amendments to the way students in Grades 10-12 are funded by the province.

The change doesn’t affect funding for full-time students who take eight or more courses, but boards will now get less funding for students who take less than a full course load. There will also be less funding for extra courses students choose to take that are above and beyond the eight considered full-time.

“We base our budgets on the rules of the game,” said Trustee Terry Allen. “It’s simply not appropriate to change the rules in the middle of the season.”

In last week’s correspondence, the government told districts the change was meant to correct a mistake from 2002, when it moved to a student-based formula. Assistant deputy minister Doug Steward said it was “a holdover from the previous cost-based funding allocation system,” which was meant to help districts with administrative costs.

Surrey’s $503-million budget for the current school year was drawn up last spring based on Victoria’s funding formula and the number of students expected to enroll in schools this fall.

To amend the formula mid-year makes the situation particularly difficult, said Surrey’s Supt. Mike McKay.

“Out difficulty is we’re up and running. We’ve got commitments...”

He said discussions with the ministry are ongoing, but that “questions beget questions right now rather than answers.”

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