School board launching new budget process with challenges ahead
The Arrow Lakes School District is embarking on a new, more open budget process, and it is doing so with a number of challenges ahead.
The new budget process will see the district increase the level of consultation by conducting a survey and convening a number of stakeholder meetings involving school board trustees, parents, students, teachers, support staff, principals and vice-principals.
“We’re hoping this year – the board and I – to have greater involvement from partners and stakeholders and as a result of that to help inform what our 2014-15 budget looks like, to look at our district goals and our budget priorities,” said superintendent Terry Taylor at the Jan. 28 school board meeting.
They’ll have a number of issues to consider. First is the end of funding protection. For the past several years, school districts with declining enrolment like Arrow Lakes have had their funding enrolment topped up to make up for declining student numbers. That was because the districts still had to run the buildings, ever if there were fewer students.
Next year, districts with declining enrolment will have their budgets cut by 1.5 per cent compared to this year. “(The government) has said starting next year – and this is firm – we are coming out of funding protection,” Susan Brenna-Smith, the district financial comptroller told the board.
That 1.5 per cent reduction in budgets will continue as long as enrolment declines. “In essence, the reduction is being compounded every year,” she said.
The school district is sitting on $1.6 million in reserve funds, but that would be used up in five years in order for the school district to maintain its current funding levels, said Brenna-Smith.
“Although the news isn’t good with funding protection, it’s something that unfortunately we’ve been hearing about for a long time,” said board chair Patti Adams. “It just adds another chisel to the rock.”
Most of that surplus has already been earmarked for future projects, including $475,000 for facilities improvements, $281,762 for the school reconfiguration program, $180,000 for professional learning and a $250,000 emergency fund. There is $392,000 in unrestricted surplus funds available.
That’s what’s certain. What’s uncertain is how last week’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling that sided with the B.C. Teachers Federation will impact future budgets. The court ruled that class size and composition should remain part of labour negotiations and ordered the government to pay $2 million in damages.
The decision could have huge cost ramifications but the government has indicated they may take the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Pat Dion, the president of the Arrow Lakes Teachers Association, applauded the decision, saying it marked the end of 12 years of waiting.
“I don’t know what the impact is going to be but there should be some impact and there should be some funding impacts for the district, for the betterment of the district, in my opinion,” he said. “But who knows with this government.”
Adams, for her part, said school trustees want to make sure they were informed with whatever the government is planning — especially as they formulate next year’s budget.
“We’re asking government, keep us in the loop and let us know what’s going on,” she said. “Right now we’re having budget talks. We’re dealing with things that are real. We don’t want to have things sprung upon us and not be delivered.”
The school district dealt with a few other issues at the meeting. Taylor said the district was applying for a provincial grant to pay for a new boiler at Lucerne school. The current one is 25-years-old and in a critical state of disrepair.
The district will also have to fork out about $25,000 to buy new fume hoods and new eye wash stations at Nakusp Secondary School, after WorkSafeBC paid a visit in December and issued its findings.
Shop teacher Ken Barisoff has applied for a grant from the Construction Foundation of BC to upgrade the three shops at NSS, some of which have equipment dating to the opening of the school more than 50 years ago.
The district also purchased a new 15-passenger van for groups to use on field trips. They also increased the cost for using the van to $0.25 per kilometre from $0.10 per kilometre. The money will go to purchase a new van in the future.