The Prince Rupert School District (SD52) board of education had to find more than $360,000 in savings, but were able to balance the 2014/2015 school year budget on Tuesday.
Due to an expected student decline and a reduction in funding protection, SD52 will be receiving more than $350,000 less from the provincial government next school year.
Along with other factors, such as increased employee benefits and a need for additional support staff, the budget was presented to the board of education on Tuesday showed a shortfall of $368,615. Given the need to balance the budget, Prince Rupert School District secretary-treasurer Cam McIntyre presented a number of option that would create $443,000 in savings.
One recommendation was to cut library assistant time in schools for a cost saving of $34,000, but many trustees had concerns with reducing access to literature to save money.
“To me, libraries are very important. Children have to learn to read and understand what they’re reading. In a library they will learn that,” said trustee Barb Gruber.
“I think it’s really important; Whether it’s one child or 20. That one child may become a doctor from being able to read.”
Acting-chair Janet Beil agreed keeping the additional library assistant time was important.
“The pilot project hasn’t really taken off because we haven’t given it enough time,” she said of the program instituted in the last budget.
Another suggestion the board strongly opposed was to stop heating the former Westivew Elementary building, which would save the district $23,000 per year.
“If we stop the heating, we’re looking at a long term impact,” said Beil.
“If we have to rip it down at the cost of $1 million because we failed to heat it then we’re potentially setting up a new board for disaster.”
Bart Kuntz was the lone trustee who felt heating the building was not a must.
“We could heat it, but at the end of the day, I’d rather see that in the budget being utilized for students,” he said.
The board decided not to make those two cuts, but accepted all of the remaining recommendations. Among the ideas adopted by trustees was taking $160,000 from the teacher staffing reserve, which are funds set aside in case additional teaching positions are needed, and taking $99,000 that was to be set aside for a second much-needed Speech Language Pathologist. The board also agreed to reduce the education supplies budget by 20 per cent, saving $67,000. McIntyre noted the district has been budgeting more than has been necessary for its flex funds, legal fees and consulting fees for a number of years and suggested $30,000 be removed from each for a combined savings of $60,000.
The board agreed to leave the remaining $19,000 in savings as a surplus. The use of the surplus will be revisited during the amended budget process in the event the district doesn’t need to spend it on urgent expenditures.