Jay Aspin, chair of the Near North District School Board, says he’s happy with his board’s finances during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board revealed in its February meeting that a $1.5 million deficit is being projected due to the costs of handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Approximately 250 students are choosing the at-home learning option which reduces our grant, yet forces the board to hire a number of additional teachers to provide the virtual program,” said Aspin. “As well, we have extra cleaning and sanitization requirements and have had to purchase PPE supplies.”

Last summer, the provincial government announced enhanced funding for Ontario school boards, which included amending legislation allowing boards to carry a deficit of 2 percent of the allocated money. At the time, the Near North Board was showing a balanced budget.

In total, the board received $3.3 million in COVID-19 funding (federal and provincial combined), with expenses tallied at $4.2 million. There were also “additional expenditures” not initially included in the original estimates.

The 250 student decline in enrolment was also a trend consistent across the province, according to the board’s report.

“As always, we take a conservative approach to our budget,” Aspin continued. “In addition to the funding the government has and will provide, we are reviewing expenditures to minimize any deficit we may incur. In fact, I would say we will be pretty close to breaking even despite these pandemic challenges.“

The board report also highlights the province is aware of the $1.5 million deficit and has deemed it acceptable.

Aspin added the Near North District School Board’s situation is similar to that of boards across Ontario.