Trustees with the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board have approved a $105 million budget ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, with almost three-quarters of the funding headed towards staff salaries and benefits.

During their June 14 Board meeting, the KPDSB detailed their $105 million budget, which is seeing a 2.5 per cent or about $2.6 million increase compared to the 2021-2022 school year, which will help pay for a number of capital projects, increased staffing levels and transportation costs, and more.

But despite some additional funding allotments, the KPDSB’s finances continue to be tight.

After a notable decrease in staffing levels last school year, largely due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the KPDSB says they’ve hired a total of 17 full-time positions across their catchment area, with 7 positions being within secondary schools and 7 as Education Assistants.

While that’s great news for the education sector, the board notes staffing-related expenses now take up 72 per cent of its overall budget, representing an estimated $75 million for the area. That’s an increase of about 2 per cent or $1.6 million compared to 2021’s budget.

When Ontario released its annual Sunshine List for 2021, which lists the names and salaries of those who make over $100,000 per year in the public sector, KenoraOnline found there were 72 employees with the KPDSB on the list. The highest earner was Director of Education Sherri-Lynne Pharand, who recently announced her resignation from the board.

Other expenses include transportation costs, up roughly $1 million or 16 per cent compared to last year due to increased contract costs with bus operators, pupil accommodation costs are up $1.4 million due to capital improvement needs, while administration costs, custodial costs and rental fees have also seen small bumps year-to-year.

Ultimately, the KPDSB says its expenses are up a total of $2.7 million compared to the 2021-2022 school year. But this year’s budget does include a number of capital projects which aren’t expected to impact future budgets for the board.

Capital projects set to start in 2022 include a deficiency rectification project at Sioux North High School worth about $2.7 million, HVAC upgrades at New Prospect Public School worth $2.5 million, about $3.2 million of work at Beaver Brae and $1.7 million of childcare planning for both Ignace Public and Lillian Berg.

The KPDSB is also seeing additional funding through a few different sources this year, which will help to reign down their costs. Overall, the board says their annual Grant for Student Needs funding is up about $4 million this year, for about a 6 per cent improvement.

The funding was increased due to an overall enrollment increase, a bump in the provincial per-pupil funding and a bump in federal funding for First Nation students, as well as $1.1 million in COVID-19 funding.

The board notes their enrollment is up overall, but not majorly. Secondary students are seeing an increase of about 90 students with the largest increase in Red Lake, while Elementary enrollment will see a small decrease, notably with a 50 student decline in Open Roads Public School.