Despite the fact that the board is still $2 million in the hole, Sudbury Catholic board chair Jody Cameron explained the board can afford to do this because it has nearly $1 million in reserves that can only be spent on special education.
“What we're saying is we have this money here, we have these needs, so let's spend this money and put it into our schools and invest it into our students,” he said.
Part of the reason it has so much reserve money earmarked for special education is that it actually had a $400,000 surplus in the operating grants it received from the province for 2013-2014.
That's mostly because of financial restraint shown as the board attempted to whittle down its deficit. The rest of the special education reserve comes from an accounting issue dating back about five years.
“Back in 2008, we used to be able to charge certain admin lines to special education,” Cameron said, speaking to Northern Life after the school board's Dec. 17 meeting, where the decision was made.
“The province said you can't do that anymore. They pulled all that money out and put it into a reserve and said it's enveloped, and you can only spend it on special education.”
About $230,000 of the special education reserve money will go towards one-time costs such as iPad minis for elementary school students, with those with special needs receiving priority access. The Wifi in schools is also being enhanced.
Another $231,000 will be spent in 2013-2014 on hiring a number of new staff members to support those with special needs, including a registered social worker, two itinerant behaviour support workers and a psychological associate.
Even though hiring these staff members will obviously incur ongoing costs for the school board, Cameron said board staff are confident they'll qualify for a government cost to make up the difference.
The decision to spend more on special education was just one of the revisions to the 2013-2014 budget approved by Sudbury Catholic trustees.
A report submitted by director of education Catherine McCullough showed the board will bring in $1.7 million more than originally expected for the financial year, mostly because of revenues deferred from previous years.
Grants tied to student enrolment were also $289,000 higher than expected, as enrolment increased by 80 pupils over original estimates.
However, the board's expenditures have also increased by $1.67 million, partly due to additional teaching staff required because of the higher student enrolment, as well as the increased special education spending.
The budget changes actually put the board in a slightly better financial position than originally expected.
Last month, the board revealed that after a year of cuts and fiscal restraint, it's on target to eliminate its deficit by August 2015 rather than August 2016.
The board was originally supposed to have a $831,000 surplus for 2013-2014, but with the budget revisions will now run a $839,000 surplus, meaning it's still on target to meet its financial goals.