Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk 1) is heading into the new school year with a leaner $38 million budget and with about the same number of staff members if funding for Indigenous support programs materializes.

The draft budget, still subject to approval by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE), is slightly less than the actual projected budget for the current 2019-2020 school year of around $39.8 million. The budget proposes that Yk1’s projected expenses for the next school year come to $38.1 million with a net deficit of $300,000.

Its expenditures break down into 64.4 per cent for school programs, 17.39 per cent for inclusive and special needs schooling, 10.10 per cent for maintenance, 4.21 per cent for administration, 2.43 per cent for Aboriginal Languages education and 0.57 per cent for accommodation.

The expenditure breakdown for Yellowknife Education District No. 1. screengrab image

As Tram Do, director of Corporate Services told the meeting members last week, ECE provides around 80 per cent of Yk1’s revenue, with a property tax allocation from the City of Yellowknife accounting for 18 per cent and two per cent from Yk1-generated revenues.

Funding from ECE is based on full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrolment. Since September of 2018 there has been an increase in enrolment of 40 students at Yk1’s six schools, with another five students from Kaw Tay Whee School in Dettah attending Yk1 schools. A total of 2,143 students were enrolled at Yk 1 schools in 2019-2020, according to an ECE document on NWT education bodies.

NNSL Media has asked Yk 1 for the total number of staff it employs, but had not yet received a response.

Outline of staff changes for Yk1 in 2020-2021. screengrab image

The most notable change in the budget is with staff hired through funding related to Jordan’s Principle, the concept that Indigenous children living on and off reserve receive equitable access to government-funded public services.

In the past, the number of students requiring Jordan’s Principle support, in the form of various educational resources like teaching staff or literacy support has “increased every year” and “our schools have been very vigilant in applying for that funding for students who might otherwise be falling through the cracks. Our staffing numbers will be almost exactly the same as I am expecting Jordan’s Principle funding to continue,” said Yk1 superintendent Metro Huculak. 

“We received about $2.2 million of funding for Jordan’s Principle for our schools (in 2019-2020),” said Do. “We haven’t received approval for the next school year. Principals are in the process of applying for Jordan’s Principle funding. Hopefully by August or September we will have confirmation as to how many positions we receive funding for.”

Other staff changes include seven new child and youth care counsellor (CYCC) positions, one 0.25 FTE French teacher and one less FTE junior kindergarten instructor on reserve. 

The CYCC positions are among 49 such new roles created across the NWT to provide mental health support for children and families.

RELATED REPORTING: 49 mental health counsellor jobs to be created in territory

Funding for the seven CYCC positions will come from the Department of Health and Social Services, after ECE rerouted $500,000 from school counselling for the new budget. Counselling services are actually increasing for Yk1 students, from 4.05 positions to 8.75 (seven CYCC roles and 1.75 Yk1 counsellor role).

Impact of Covid measures

Few details were given in the meeting about the possible impacts of Covid safety measures that schools will implement in September.

However, Do said that the measures could affect some school programs.

“Speciality programs that we provide to students like choir, band, athletes, industrial arts, drama (might not be the same) when we reopen in September,” she said. “We’re all working on safe school plans for September. Those plans will be revealed as soon as we have them developed and approved. Some specialty programs we provide may or may not be there and if they are there they may look slightly different than what we’re normally used to.”

There will be added costs for the intensified cleaning procedures at schools, Huculak said, but the actual costs weren’t yet known.

Covid expenses

Expenses related to the pandemic have been tracked by the district and they might be reimbursed through federal funding, Do said.

“If staff had to be physically at work and had to travel outside of the territory for medical treatment and had to come back and self-quarantine, (those) two weeks of self-quarantine (were) tracked separately and we could maybe get reimbursed if the GNWT is successful in getting funding,” she said. 

Other expenses could include technology or internet service required for working from home, or personal protective equipment.

In response to an inquiry from NNSL Media as to whether the data on those expenses was available, Huculak said it had not yet been released.

New contract not ready

The proposed budget didn’t include salary increases for Yk1 staff because the new contracts aren’t yet in place. NWT Teachers’ Association is still negotiating a collective agreement with the territorial government.

“We’re assuming there will be no new increase until we hear what the GNWT has settled (with the NWT Teachers’ Association). Whatever the GNWT settles with the NWTTA would be what we receive in additional funding when we negotiate the contracts and funding with our staff and any increases with our staff,” Do said.

Contract talks between the GNWT and NWTTA began on Tuesday and will run until Friday, according to a GNWT news release. Talks between Yk1 and the NWTTA will follow the Association’s negotiations with the GNWT.

Negotiations between NWT education districts and the NWTTA have been paused during the Covid-19 pandemic and the current contract with Yk1, which expires on Aug. 31 would carry on until talks resume, possibly in the fall.

RELATED REPORTING: Teaching to continue despite Covid delaying school boards’ collective agreement talks

However, the three-year contract that Yk1 has with administrative assistants, maintenance staff and custodians – represented by the United Steelworkers union – was included in the proposed budget and those staff members will receive a 2.5 per cent salary increases.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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