Funding brings temporary reprieve for school district

Funding announcements this week from the Ministry of Education are good news and bad news for the Okanagan Skaha School District, which has been dealing with declining enrolment and substantial deficits for the last two budget cycles.

Funding announcements this week from the Ministry of Education are good news and bad news for the Okanagan Skaha School District, which has been dealing with declining enrolment and substantial deficits for the last two budget cycles.

Secretary-treasurer Ron Shongrunden said it’s too early to predict the size of the deficit for the 2011-12 school year, but it is good news for the district that funding protection is going to continue for at least one more year.

“It could have been a lot worse. The last couple of years, they were thinking it was going to disappear,” he said. “Again, just for one year; they don’t really know what they are going to do in the end.”

For Okanagan Skaha, that amounts to $1.4 million going into the kitty. The bad news is that Continuing Education and Distance Learning are not part of the funding protection, amounting to a funding decrease of $300,000 for the upcoming budget.

Funding protection helps insulate the district budget from the effects of declining enrolment, which has more than eaten up the provincial government’s much-touted increases in education funding.

“In the coming school year, we’re increasing the basic allocation amount provided for every student by $44. This gives districts more money up front, allowing them to plan budgets more effectively and address cost pressures they’ve identified,” said former Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid.

“We’ve continually increased funding to school districts since 2000-01 and I’m delighted to say we are providing a further increase to make full-day kindergarten available for all students.”

However, school districts across the province have been dealing with structural deficits over the past few years, including Okanagan Skaha, which had to deal with about a $2 million deficit last year.

“We had funding protection in there, carried forward some funds from the previous year and we had technology kick in to kind of make it all balance,” said Shongrunden, adding that some costs go down with declining enrolment but other costs, like utilities and wages, either remain the same or have increased.

“ I am hoping it’s not going to be too terribly bad. It will still be tight, I would think. But we’ll know more in a little bit.”

He will be spending spring break preparing budget figures in advance of the public part of the process, which includes two meetings, one on April 6, where a consultant will release the results of the recent facilities review, and a public review meeting on April 12. Both meetings will take place in the Penticton Secondary library.

Part of the consultant’s report will be a review of how much enrolment is going to continue to drop, which may mean continuing problems in coming years. While Shongrunden said school closures are not likely an active consideration for the 2011-12 budget, that may change in the future as enrolment continues to decline.

“It will be a substantial drop over the next five years,” he said. “I think that you’ll find in the long term, something has to happen, but in the short term, we’re probably OK.”