No cuts to local classrooms in school board budget

Board dips into reserves to save special education

There will be no cuts in local classrooms this year following the school board’s decision to siphon $1.29 million from reserves in order to meet its operating expenses.

“There’s been no layoffs,” said board chairman Gordon Comeau. “A lot of districts aren’t in as good of a position as us with surplus dollars they are carrying and they are forced to make cuts.”

The Nicola-Similkameen School District 58 passed a $29.2 million operating budget at a meeting last week, following months of consultation with community school groups.

Comeau said the board’s priority throughout the budget process was to protect its investment in students with special needs.

The province provides $2.7 million to District 58 annually to support students with special needs, while the board spends $4.4 million providing those services, employing 60 Education Assistants for 2,000 children.

According to Comeau the province’s eligibility requirements for special education funding are too narrow, and don’t address the needs of all students who need extra support.

“If kids need help they need help,” said Comeau. The extra dollars in the local budget go “to additional support for teachers who might have an excessive amount of stress in the classroom, maybe kids who are not identified as special needs but at the same they need a little extra attention.”

The district has used reserved funds to balance its budget in the past, but not to the level that was required this year, said Comeau. There is approximately $3 million left in reserves. “It will come to a time when it’s not there and we will have to look at cuts and not providing services.”

Comeau said the 2015-2016 budget process was especially challenging as the province clawed back $145,000 in funding, demanding school boards find more administrative efficiencies while downloading responsibility for increases in hydro and natural gas costs, as well as health care premiums.

“Every year for the past few years they’ve been clawing back and not providing adequate increases to the overall budget to cover off inflation,” he said.

“That money has to be found somewhere.  There are other factors. Transportation is not a requirement for school districts but we choose to do that for free. Some districts actually charge for busing.”

Busing will cost the school board $876,674 in the coming year.

 

Salaries and benefits account for the lion’s share of the school board’s budget at $17.09 million, a 3.7 per cent increase over the previous year.