The Saanich School District is going into business.
With less cash coming in and more budgetary pressures than ever, the Saanich School District has come up with a business plan to generate funds through the sale of online, high school level courses, called distributed learning courses.
Monica Schulte, secretary treasurer for the SD63, which stretches from Sidney to the northern tip of Saanich, including Claremont secondary, began crafting the business company plan in the fall under direction from the Saanich board of education.
“We have those courses, and now we want to be able to sell those internationally,” said Schulte. “In order for us to set up this distributed learning, we’ve had to be creative.”
The district already sells online distributed learning courses to students within B.C., but in order to sell internationally without contravening the School Act, it needs to incorporate. International student enrolment fees will cover the initial startup costs.
The overarching arm’s-length company, School District No. 63 Business Company, is independent from two smaller companies within the business plan: Saanich International Recruiting Services Inc. and Saanich International Distributed Learning Services Inc.
The business is projected to pull in an extra $1.22 million for the district next school year, $1.67 million the following year and $2.08 million in 2014-15.
The district’s budget advisory committee brought forward several possible avenues for easing the impact of declining enrolment and budgetary pressures, including: an extra week off spring break; an expanded international program; starting a company; and off-shore marketing.
The government allows school districts to set up companies, but initially had only loose rules in place, and companies began borrowing funds from districts. Regulations were tightened in July 2007, and don’t allow for loans between school boards and their arm's-length companies.
The formation of the business is the first of the initiatives taken on by the current SD61 board. It is up for discussion at a special board meeting tonight (July 5) and is expected to pass.
Between last school year and the upcoming September, enrolment in the district is forecast to decline by about 350 students.
“We’re trying to means to provide more support for our teachers, students and educational system than we can generate through the number of students we have,” said Wayne Hunter, chair of the Saanich School District board of education.
“It’s not something we’ve done on our own,” Hunter said. “We’ve taken professional advice and the experience of other districts that have gone down that path.”
The plan isn’t indicative of a larger foray into business for the district, Hunter said.
Schulte drew on significant legal and accounting advice, as well as the advice of districts with companies in operation, including the Central Okanagan School District where she previously served as director of finance.
The Greater Victoria School District previously held a business, which dissolved due to disuse in June 2009.
It’s a possible revenue stream that the board of education would be willing to consider in the future, should the issue make it to the table, confirmed Greater Victoria Board of Education chairperson Peg Orcherton.