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SD71 excited for new school year, expecting some budget and staffing challenges

As the new school year approaches, staff at School District 71 are excited but concerned the current economic situation might bring some challenges.

The district is excited to see what new opportunities will be there in a post-pandemic situation. Manager of communications Craig Sorochan says they got a glimpse of what it could look like at the end of last school year.

“Last year was a really interesting year because after Christmas we were still aimed at COVID, talking about safeguards and measures and social protocols,” said Sorochan. “As we moved towards spring, there were more and more school events, we had the return of school sports, we had the return of spectators in schools, and we also saw the return of many graduations.”

He says last year felt like a turning point in the pandemic and there’s potential for new projects within the district.

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However, he adds there could be some budget and staffing challenges because of the economic situation with inflation and high housing prices.

“It’s inflationary times in our area and all over the world. So, what we’re seeing here is increased costs,” said Sorochan. “Which means when we’re looking at advancing projects that there’s cost pressures so we have to be really careful with how we’re spending money.”

Sorochan says one of the biggest costs for the district this year is fuel for school busses, along with construction costs as contractors are asking for higher budgets than they were a year ago.

He adds the district has been doing alright comparatively because of growing enrollments.

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While the housing situation has been an Achilles heel for many public services, such as health care, Sorochan says it does not seem to have as big of an effect on staffing.

He says housing is relatively affordable in the area, although the costs have impacted employees as many are having to rent housing when they arrive.

However, he says they are still feeling the crunch in a few sectors that are often in high demand.

“One of the interesting things about being here in the Comox Valley is that it’s a very desirable place to move, so we’re constantly hiring,” he said. “One of the areas we might see some pressures to start the year are positions such as EAs (education assistants), they’re in definite hot demand.”

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He adds they still need custodians and teachers on call when school begins.

Funding announced on Monday by the provincial government is being welcomed by the district. Sorochan says they are receiving about $900,000 of targeted funding for food meal programs and other costs.

He adds they hope to put more food in the classrooms for kids, as they often have food and hot lunch programs.

Plans to deal with a surge of COVID-19 cases when students return are on hold and the district hopes they do not have to resort to the measures.

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Sorochan says they’re looking forward to new Indigenous programming this year, along with truth and reconciliation week at the end of September and trustee board elections in the fall.

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