UGDSB trustees discuss policy updates and next year’s budget

WELLINGTON COUNTY –  Items discussed during the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) meeting on June 13 include air quality, next year’s budget, and policy and bylaw amendments.  

Air quality

Regarding the recent wildfire smoke blanketing the region, trustee Jen Edwards said she is grateful every learning space in the UGDSB was already equipped with a HEPA filter (high efficiency particle air filter). 

“As climate change continues, our air quality will continue to be very important and I’m very glad we have those,” she added. 

Next school year budget

On May 14, the finance and facilities committee reviewed a budget update regarding enrollment projections, grants, and other funding sources for the upcoming school year. 

Edwards presented a report regarding this update during the board meeting last week, noting the highlight is the projected enrollment growth. 

Enrolment is expected to increase by about 200, bringing the total number of students in the board to approximately 35,240.

That means grants for student needs will increase from $422.3 million this current school year to $431.6 million in 2023/24. 

Special program funds are projected to increase from $2.2 million to $5 million, while other government grants are expected to remain the same, at $2.9 million. 

Other revenue sources include international student revenue, which is expected to decrease from $2.3 million to $1.4 million, and revenue from sale of hydro from solar panels, interest income, and rental of school spaces, which should stay the same. 

This brings total operating revenue for the 2023/24 school year to $443.4 million. 

Updated policies 

There were two reports from the policies and priorities committee during the board meeting, regarding their meetings on May 2 and 20, both presented by trustee Robin Ross. 

The report on the May 2 meeting includes a recommendation that the board approve changes to the smoke and vape-free environment policy.

These changes include: 

– extending the public consultation period by 94 days, until the end of September; 

– removing “separate from any area where smoking is otherwise permitted” from the following: “When a member of the board’s Indigenous community requests to use tobacco or other sacred medicines for traditional Indigenous cultural purposes, every effort will be made to accommodate these practices in an appropriately designated space, separate from any area where smoking is otherwise permitted;” and 

– adding “this policy is primarily governed by the Smoke Free Ontario Act (SFOA), which prohibits smoking or the holding of lit tobacco products and smoking of or the holding of lit cannabis products on all school premises and places of work. In the Upper Grand DSB, school premises means all school board property.”  

Feedback on the smoke and vape-free policy can be submitted to until Sept. 29.

The board unanimously approved minor changes to the code of conduct and policies regarding privacy protection and information access. 

Policies pertaining to physical activities, alcohol and drugs, and appropriate dress were rescinded because the content is already covered elsewhere.  

In the report about the May 30 policies and priorities meeting, Ross said the committee recommends the board approve four revised policies, regarding advertising expenditures, public concerns, and out-of-area and out-of-district attendance. 

The first three policy revisions were approved unanimously, but there was some opposition regarding out-of-area and out-of-district attendance. 

Edwards said “I understand transportation has very little extra space in it, however I will not be voting for the motion to pass because of the absolute no on the busing for out-of-area students.” 

She noted that while it may be easier for urban students, “in rural areas it’s extremely difficult, as we’ve seen in the comments that came back, and its a hardship for my constituents.

“Those that are asking for out-of-area bussing usually have a very good reason for it and it is a very difficult area for them. So I will not be voting in favour.” 

Trustee Martha McNeil asked for clarification whether “staff have the ability to, in extenuating circumstances, provide busing for out-of-area students.” 

Director Peter Sovran said “at all times staff can, provided that it is within the policies and procedures, have the ability to make adjustments and provide adequate resources for students or families in extenuating circumstances. 

“The policy as stated is simply that a student who is granted access who is out of area or out of district does not qualify for transportation,” Sovran added, and “the same would be true for a student who lives within the distance requirements for transportation – they wouldn’t qualify for transportation either.” 

The amendment eventually passed, with trustees MacNeil, Ross, Laurie White, Luke Weiler, Katherine Hauser, Lynn Topping, and Irene Hanenberg voting in favour. The two dissenting trustees were Edwards and Kenn Manezrolle. 

Bylaw amendments

Bylaw amendments from the governance committee were presented by trustee Weiler, regarding revisions to committee meeting end-times, scheduling and language.

The board unanimously approved these revisions.