Prince Rupert School District in need of $1.4 million to balance the books

The Prince Rupert School District expects it will have to cut jobs next year to make ends meet.

Trustees of the Prince Rupert School District will need to find a further $1.4 million to balance the budget in the years to come.

Trustees of the Prince Rupert School District will need to find a further $1.4 million to balance the budget in the years to come.

The Prince Rupert School District expects it will have to cut jobs next year to make ends meet.

School District 52’s board of education has to find more than $1.4 million in cost savings to balance the coming school year’s budget following a new provincial framework agreement to give raises to school support staff.

Secretary-treasurer Cam McIntyre, said an agreement for support staff wage increases in British Columbia has required school boards in every British Columbia school district to create a savings plan for the current and upcoming school year to fund the raise in pay.

More than $100,000 in savings is needed this year, and almost $200,000 the following year.

In terms of the 2013-2014 school year, McIntyre said there are three things that could cover the wage hike, the first being an unrestricted surplus still available in the budget. Furthermore, the district’s director of instruction, Ken Minette, is working half-time and one of two speech pathologists budgeted for this year is away on leave.

“The combination of those three things will allow the board to fund those wage increases in the first year without having to take from other aspects,” McIntyre said.

But in the following school year, a steeper increase in support staff pay, as part of the agreement amongst other factors, will make balancing the budget more difficult.

Ongoing changes to funding protection will mean the district will have $371,736 less in funding in the 2014-2015 school year. The biggest factor, said McIntyre, is that the board approved the current year’s budget by using the majority of what was left in surplus to balance the budget. McIntyre said the surplus of $857,196 will be gone by the end of the current year.

Additionally, the support staff contract will once again increase, with $193,035 needed to be found. Together with the other factors, Prince Rupert’s school board will have to deal with a cost pressure of $1,421,967.

“The board is going to be facing a very significant challenge overall to balance the budget over the next year,” McIntyre said, adding there are additional cost pressures expected beyond the $1.4 million.

“Eighty-six per cent of our costs are wages, and in order to find $1.4 million in the budget there really is not much question that there will be some degree of staffing reductions in 2014-2015,” McIntyre later said.

Tina Last, board chair, said the district is between a rock and a hard place with the decision.

“As the employers we want to recognize the value of our employees … I don’t think anyone anticipated that local boards of educations were expected to find that increase. We all know it should happen, it’s just how,” she said.

“We’ve got some hard decisions to make going forward, and it looks like it’s going to be on the backs of our teachers and support staff. That’s not the first and foremost thing we want to look at,” Trustee Janet Beil said, adding the district should look into selling old schools to gain much-needed funds.

In the meantime, the district does have a number of cost-saving ideas and is planning to meet with teachers and support staff to talk about the possible impacts of the framework agreement. To prepare, the board will start its budget consultation process early in the year.