The school district is pulling out the red ink for its upcoming budget.
There is an approximately $1.9-million budget shortfall for the 2016-2017 school year in School District 52. On March 10, the district held an advisory budget consultation to explain the reality behind the numbers and options.
“We have been living beyond our means because we had funding protection. You don’t realize you’re living large until you go to another district,” said Sandra Jones, the superintendent of School District 52.
The funding protection from the province kept the district afloat over the years. After the Skeena Cellulose pulp mill closed more than a decade ago, the district lost a significant number of students, and now the ministry of education cuts the budget $369,000 annually— rather than cut millions when student numbers first declined.
There is still approximately $1.9-million of cuts to go.
Last year’s budget was balanced by using a surplus that had be collected over many years, Jones said. This year, there was no surplus, unless more services are cut and people are laid off.
“Then we had an audit last month, as did a bunch of districts across the province and the north,” Jones said. “The money hasn’t been taken yet but it will be. We’re just waiting for the ministry to send us the formal letter saying you’re getting clawed back.”
Other expenses that contribute to the deficit include funding for the new curriculum, the new MyEducation BC computer software system, giving pay increases to non-unionized staff and step increases for teachers who aren’t at the top of the pay scale yet.
Enrollment is forecast to stay the same, but just in case more families move to the area a reserve of $900,000 is being considered if there’s a need to hire three more teachers.
“I’m committed to this. If there is a go on one of the LNG projects, or if the port starts hiring more people, it’s likely to happen over the summer and we won’t know until September that there’s an influx of kids,” Jones said.
The district won’t get any more money from the ministry until enrollment levels rise to at least 200 students. Until then, the funding protection is in place and the budget continues to dip 1.5 per cent a year.
The board discussed potential areas to cut costs and balance the budget. Cutting support staff is one option. Jones said that English language learning support is overspent. Library counselors and education assistants can be addressed as well. Transportation costs are also high with buses and ferries.
Another option might be to reconsider the Port Edward School. It has a declining enrollment and in the next school year there won’t be a principal. The board could consult to close the school down.
A lot is on the table when the board meets on April 12 to approve the final budget.