There were a lot of smiles on the faces of Okanagan Skaha School District trustees at a special meeting Monday night.
Increased enrollment and unplanned-for disbursements from the Ministry of Education meant the school district was not only able to balance its 2016-17 budget, but actually finalize the $65 million document with a small, $790 surplus.
Among other revenue increases the province kicked in $739,000 from the rural education fund to preserve Trout Creek and West Bench Elementary School, $530,000 to hire more teaching staff in the aftermath of the Supreme Court of Canada decision, and supplements to transportation and new curriculum.
“It has been a huge year of changes,” said secretary-treasurer Bonnie Roller Routley, explaining that while the revenue side of the budget has increased, so have the expenses. “More students mean more teachers.”
Roller Routley said an increase of about 25 full-time equivalent students pushed the district out of funding protection for the first time in 15 years.
“That’s good news. It has been a monkey on our back for a long time,” said board chair Linda van Alphen. Over the course of years of shrinking enrollment, funding protection helped provide a stable budget, but in recent years, the ministry changed its approach.
“Three years ago, the ministry started indicating we had to pay it back, 1.5 per cent at a time,” said Roller Routley. “It was coming to be $750,000 a year, over and above everything else you had to find.”
Roller Routley said the changes should be enough to give the school district some stability in next year’s budget process.
“Even if our enrollment flatlines and comes in at the same number, we know we are not going back into funding protection,” said Roller Routley. “I think that is all good news for us.”
Van Alphen was cautious about the future, pointing out that while the province had removed the requirement to find $266,000 in administrative savings, they had required the district to pay a similar amount into the Next Generation Network enhancement.
“A lot of what happens in the funding world seems to be one hand giveth and the other taketh away,” said van Alphen.
Planning begins on the budget for the 2017-18 school year right away, with funding estimates expected from the province in mid-March. There will be a series of meetings with staff and stakeholder groups to plan the budget and collect feedback through April, with a final open meeting to present the budget in early May.