Catholic board budget focuses on mental health, student learning

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Windsor Catholic School Board administrators submitted a budget after Tuesday night’s board meeting prioritizing student mental health and primary education for 2022-23.

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The $282.4 million budget has been submitted and is expected to be approved by the Windsor-Essex County District School Board at its June 21 council meeting, after more time for public feedback, board officials said.

This year’s budget addresses what board chairman Fulvio Valentinis said as the top priorities derived from feedback from about 4,700 voters.

“There were three main areas that the feedback… identified: student learning in reading, writing, and math; mental health and wellbeing; … and students with special needs.”

Valentinis said these three topics also address concerns arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, where student learning and mental health are challenging after disruptions and sprawling online classes.

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“Reading, writing, and arithmetic have always been integral priorities,” Valentinis says. “But I think they … have certainly been brought to the fore as a result of the pandemic.

“Students’ mental health has taken its toll, these two years have been tough.”

There will be approximately 20,375 students enrolled in the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board system next year, an increase of approximately 225 students from last year’s budget estimates.

Taking into account the allocations per student, the board will receive an additional $1.6 million based on the increasing number of enrollments, for a total of $281.6 million.

This year’s budget accounts for approximately $9.2 million in additional expenses, which the board attributed in a statement to higher program costs and personnel costs due to higher enrollments.

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The rest of the budget will be funded through the board’s accrued surplus to balance the budget, a move allowed by the county and which Valentinis said they felt was important this year to ensure they are fully implemented. Meeting the needs of students after two difficult COVID-19 school years.

The board will add additional teachers, early childhood educators and teaching assistants, at a cost of approximately $3.2 million from the provincially funded COVID-19 Learning Recovery Fund, to address post-pandemic learning gaps, provide online learning and improve maintain cleaning standards.

Valentinis also noted funding from the special education board, which he said the board is proposing about $3.7 million on top of the $30 million provided by the county.

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Overall, Valentinis said he is happy with the budget and how it will address the concerns of the community and the needs of students.

“I think the government has done a good job addressing the … priorities and I’m comfortable with it,” he said. “I think it’s a responsible budget.

“We don’t know what the impact of COVID will continue, but we are confident we are addressing the issues. We provide that safe, healthy environment for students to come in, to learn and to be able to provide the right resources for the learning to really take place.”

The budget has been submitted for additional feedback in the coming week and will be considered for approval at the June 21 board meeting.

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