School district deficit estimated at $1.2 million
Early estimates show the Okanagan Skaha School District will have to dig itself out of a $1.2-million budget hole next year.
“That’s the absolute, for-sure-where-we’re-going-to-start number,” secretary-treasurer Bonnie Roller Routley told a school board committee meeting Wednesday.
She explained a projected enrolment decline will mean a $800,000 decrease in regular government funding, wage increases for support staff members will cost about $380,000, and the rising cost of power is expected to chew up another $70,000.
While the school board has faced similar shortfalls recently, it has also been able to roll over unrestricted budget surpluses, like the $600,000 in savings it used to help balance the $56-million operating budget for 2013-14.
Based on current projections, that option won’t be available for 2014-15
“At this time, there will be no other surplus to be used for anything,” Roller Routley said.
Work on tackling the deficit will begin in the spring during consultations with employees and parents groups.
“We have lots and lots of ideas of where we can go to (save money), it’s just a matter of sitting down and having a conversation,” said Roller Routley.
Educators are worried about what those ideas will include.
“I don’t know what they can do. We’re at bare bones as it is,” said Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union.
“It is very concerning for us and, again, it’s time government started (increasing) funding.”
Roller Routley, who’s only been with the district for about six months, also unveiled a revamped budget process that will eliminate a public information session and online surveys that were used in past years to solicit input.
“My experience (elsewhere) has been that there has been zero feedback from the general public, that you get five or six people and they come and they listen and most of them are employees, actually,” she said.
“I’m not discounting or saying that public or parent input is not important at all. It’s just a slightly different process, a more focused process.”
The new system means the budget won’t be unveiled publicly until it’s presented at a committee meeting in May, possibly less than a week before it’s sent to the school board for preliminary approval.
Trustee Linda Beaven said that won’t leave much time for people to respond.
“It seems to me the people don’t get really interested in the budget until it’s their cut, their child,” she said.
“To leave it until then doesn’t really give those people who have … specific interests to get involved in the system if they don’t go to (parent advisory council) meetings,” she said.
School board chairman Trustee Bruce Johnson said the compressed timeline for public input will require the board to be clear about intended cost-savings measures.
“I seem to recall at the end of last year’s budget process people said, ‘I didn’t know you were going to cut gifted (programming),’ or the year before, ‘I didn’t know you were going to cut Family Life out.’
“It’s like they sort of wanted a list in advance, then they could give their advice just on those, say, three or five specific points,” he said.
Roller Routley assured trustees the first public budget presentation will include a summary of proposed changes.