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School board passes $572 million 2017-18 budget

By Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner

Simcoe County District School Board director Steve Blake, left, and chairman Peter Beacock take part in 2017-18 budget discussions during Wednesday night's meeting. The board's approximately $572 million budget was passed.
IAN MCINROY/BARRIE EXAMINER/POSTMEDIA

Simcoe County District School Board director Steve Blake, left, and chairman Peter Beacock take part in 2017-18 budget discussions during Wednesday night's meeting. The board's approximately $572 million budget was passed. IAN MCINROY/BARRIE EXAMINER/POSTMEDIA

Simcoe County District School Board trustees had some questions for staff Wednesday night prior to passing a budget pegged at more than half-a-billion dollars.

Development of the 2017-2018 proposed budget has been underway since February 2017 and it was presented at a business and facilities standing committee meeting earlier this month and later approved by the committee on May 17 for consideration by trustees on Wednesday night.

But before rubber stamping the $572 million budget, board vice-chair and Orillia-Ramara trustee Jodi Lloyd posed questions to staff around the provisions the board must make to cover $17.6 million for future employee absenteeism.

During last week's business and facilities standing committee meeting, superintendent Brian Jeffs said the $17.6-million figure is predicted by looking at past absentee rates and forecasting how that trend would affect the board in the coming year, adding that over the past four years or so, there has been significant growth in the amount of sick leave.

On Wednesday night, Lloyd referred to a letter published in the Orillia Packet and Times that suggested there was a correlation between the elimination of teachers' retirement gratuity and the accumulation of sick time.

Jeffs said the retirement gratuity was eliminated by the Ministry of Education with the introduction of Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, in 2012.

"Can you link the increase to that same time period or is there a trending since that time period," Lloyd asked Jeffs. "If that is the case, have there been any additional funds received from the Ministry of Education to the board? Because we’re required to work within our allocated funds and our budget that we have.

"Right now we’re not able to do that in dealing with our absenteeism. We don’t begrudge anybody sick time if they are truly sick but we as a board we have to manage that within our resources."

The board hasn't received any additional resources from the ministry to deal with increased sick leave, Jeffs said.

"Over that same period of time, from 2012-13 through to what we projected over 2017-18, we’ve seen just over a $5 million increase in absenteeism," he said. "Is there a direct link? I can’t say I’ve done the scientific work on it.

"But certainly there appears to be a correlation between the elimination of gratuity and the increase in sick leave," Jeffs added. "I would suggest that (school board) directors around the province feel there is a strong correlation between those two events."

Lloyd suggested the sick leave is taking money away from other board priorities.

"We’re not the only board in the province facing this challenge, obviously," she said. "We are pulling money that we would allocate otherwise to facilities, to enhancements in schools or added to other areas within the board for students and we’re taking those funds, which is a significant amount of money, and allocating those funds to sick time.

"We can’t continue to pull from other areas of the board in the long term."

She asked Jeffs if the ministry has "come to the table" to develop a plan to support the management of issue.

"I’m aware that the board has spoken to the ministry about this and its concern, in addition to funding for transportation," he said. "I can’t comment on whether the ministry will come to the table because I haven’t been part of those discussions behind the scenes in respect to sick leave.

"We haven’t seen anything in the 2017-18 technical paper that suggests (there will be support for) increasing sick leave costs for the board," he added.

Jeffs said staff could bring a report to committee about the issue.

"The director has spoken to the respective executive of the various employee groups and has raised the issue of absenteeism," he said. "We’d be happy to work with them to see if we can change the trend we’re experiencing at this time."

imcinroy@postmedia.com