School board grapples with shortfall

Local trustees must find $265k savings in administrative costs

The local school board must cut approximately $265,000 from its administrative budget over the next two years as a result of slashes in provincial funding, and trustees are frustrated with the continued downward pressure.

“It seems every budget year the ministry is clawing back something else. At some point it reaches a breaking point where you’re going to have a negative impact on the kids,” Gordon Comeau, board chair of the Nicola-Similkameen School District 58, told The Spotlight in an interview.

While increasing education spending overall to meet the requirements of the new teachers’ agreement, the recent provincial budget demands $29 million in administrative savings from local boards this year, and a further $24 million in the following year.

For School District 58 that means a reduction of about $145,000  in year one and $125,000 in year two on an overall budget of approximately $27 million.

Comeau said the local board has already reached out to parents, through their advisory committees, to ask what services are most crucial to community schools.

“It gives us some guidance.”

Parents seem most concerned with “maintaining our special education support services and Educations Assistants in the classrooms where you might have a larger number of kids who have special needs. Making sure they have that support is where the highest priority is,” he said.

The board has also identified a pressing need for a principal at John Allison School in Princeton, and that position has already been approved. For several years John Allison has shared a principal with Vermilion Forks Elementary. “We were finding a lot of problems with that.”

John Allison School is experiencing a trend in increased enrolment. “A child’s learning opportunities are most critical in the first three or four years of going into the school system. We really need to put an administrator into that school.”

An exact cost for the position has not been established, he said.

Comeau also acknowledged the board recently voted an increase in remuneration for trustees of $2,000 a year each, and a $2,500 increase for the chair and vice chair. Trustees now receive $14,500 per year, with $15,500 going to the vice chair and 17,500 to the chair.

Comeau said it is the first time in about eight years the board has received an increase. “There is never a good time to do it. But at the same time it hadn’t been adjusted in a number of years.”

He said the community has demonstrated understand about the increase. “They tell us they are glad they don’t have to do our job. The job has become ever the more time consuming especially when you consider the amount of travelling you have to do. People that are employed take a lot of time off work.”

In order to find the required administrative savings he board is looking at efficiencies with busing and energy costs as well as property maintenance. “We look at what we can do for maintenance, finding savings there by not doing as much maintenance as you would do normally, letting things slide for a year or more than you would ordinarily.

The board is seeking the public’s input on the budget, and a questionnaire covering priorities, cost cutting and revenue generating ideas is available on the board’s website http://www.sd58.bc.ca.

The board’s budget must be complete by the end of the school year.

Comeau expressed disappointment with the province’s move to reduce board budgets while claiming to be fully funding the teacher’s agreement.

“I just think it’s unfortunate that the shell game is played, the part about we were fully funding [the contract] but taking it out of another part of the budget to me that isn’t fully funding the contract….There’s a negative impact for learning for kids. The bottom line is everything you do will impact kids.”