Families may soon have to pay to use the district’s school buses.

Families may soon have to pay to use the district’s school buses.

School district faces $1 million shortfall

The Prince Rupert School District (SD52) is facing budget challenges to a degree it hasn’t had to in years.

The Prince Rupert School District (SD52) is facing budget challenges to a degree it hasn’t had to in years.

A $1 million-plus shortfall is expected for the school district’s budget of 2016-17. In addition, the district has relied on a budgetary surplus to get through the past few years – a surplus that was pencilled in to be used up ($1,240,000) in 2015-16.

“We’ve used up our surplus this budget year, so we won’t have a buffer going into the next year, which is where our problem will lie. So we’ll be looking at every area to see where we can trim and make things a little easier,” said board chair Tina Last.

In his address to stakeholders in late January, district secretary treasurer Cam McIntyre detailed the components of the upcoming budget, explaining that the $1 million shortfall represents approximately four per cent of the overall budget – a cutting that the board hasn’t had to address in quite some time.

“What’s happened in the last number of years [is] we have deferred making cuts, while we were going to use the surplus in the previous two school years, but there were strikes for significant parts for both years and the end result of the strikes was we effectively didn’t spend as much money as we thought we would,” said McIntyre.

Additionally, the district is losing funding protection, which was approximately $2 million this year, or eight per cent, money that many districts don’t have, explained McIntyre. The surplus built up because of this funding protection and the district hadn’t spent all of it over time. The total operating grant for the district will decline by 1.5 per cent or $369,000 “as a result of the funding protection formula”.

The secretary treasurer stressed that more students and higher enrolment doesn’t necessarily mean more funding, but less funding protection.

“While we’ve been richly blessed with many resources for many years, at the end of it all, the expectation is you would have a level of service comparable to other districts, but we currently have much richer services,” said McIntyre.

Among the difficulties the district faces is forecasting the number of students that may arrive next September should one or more LNG projects go ahead. The middle school and high school currently have smaller class sizes compared to the provincial average, so there is room to add more students, but the elementary schools will be “more of a challenge”. Reserve staffing will be in place for September should the district find itself with more students than expected.

Finding that four per cent to cut is made even more difficult by the fact that 87 per cent of funding is tied up in personnel salary, while 13 per cent is designated for everything else, such as supplies, utilities, insurance and student transportation.

“We expect there will be quite a number of teachers retiring … so it’s certainly likely that part of that will be addressed simply through attrition [and] you won’t replace all the teachers who retire,” said the secretary treasurer.

But where cuts may be felt most is in student transportation, which only makes up 1.7 per cent of the budget. Currently SD52 runs two yellow buses every day, with french immersion students paying a user fee (approximately $200/year per child or a discount for families), who live in a designated section and have a bus going through their area to Roosevelt Elementary. All other students, including special needs students, do not pay.

SD52 is reviewing transportation options that would see the district either cancel the two buses (which would alleviate $130,000), charge a fee for all bus riders, or charge a fee for bus riders with a hardship provision to reduce or eliminate fees for families that have difficulty paying them.

The district is hosting input for its budgetary analysis and will have more feedback at its March 10 public meeting. On Monday, the district will meet with partner groups to gather more input as well.

Residents can have their voices heard through the survey at:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NS322MK

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