The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board has passed their 2018-2019 budget, with a number of notable investments and new funding opportunities.

Highlights include $10 million of Special Education funding, to support student mental health, autism and speech language issues, and a number of new capital infrastructure projects.

Ear Falls Public School will see $4.4 million to renovate the school, with construction beginning in January. Sioux Mountain Public School will see $2 million in renovations to their child care space, with completion anticipated for this fall.

Beaver Brae Secondary School will see total renovation of their technology wing, to the tune of $3.4 million. The board says that the renovations will begin in February 2019, and will end in December 2019. The newly-renovated tech wing will create additional space for drama, culinary arts and various shops such as transportation and construction.

It’s a really good budget,” said Richard Findlay, Superintendent of Business for the KPDSB.

“Having said that, there is an increased cost of doing business in northwestern Ontario. That’s our reality. The needs of kids also continues to increase. Instructional costs are up due to provincial increases. But, the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board is in a very healthy financial situation. The 2018-2019 budget is a good-news budget. Trustees were very happy that we’re continuing to put the needs of the students first.”

The board projected an in-year surplus of $456,000 based on revenues of $96 million. Projected revenues have increased by four per cent. The board says that the funding increase was due to an increase in grants for students’ needs to support the increase in salaries and benefits.

However, the board says that they are facing cost pressures due to declining enrollment, and hiring more academic staff to support students’ needs such as running the Hockey Academy and graduation coaches. The board added 16.5 staff to support students’ needs.

Overall board enrollment is projected to see a decrease of 1.3 per cent from previous estimates. Kenora enrollment is up by 2 per cent, but Dryden is down by 4 per cent, Sioux Lookout is down by 1 per cent, Ignace is down by 8 per cent and Red Lake is down 0.4%. The board says that part of the decline is due to increased success with summer school programs.

The KPDSB adds that Sioux North High School is expecting to increase enrollment by 5 per cent, as more students from the far north are moving to Sioux Lookout to attend the brand-new high school.

While enrollment is down overall, expenses are rising. Operating expenses are projected at $95.6 million, an increase of 3.7 per cent over 2017-2018 estimates. Instructional costs are up by $2.5 million, due to provincially negotiated collective agreements.