Okanagan Skaha school district contends with budget shortfall

Secretary-treasurer optimistic that the current figure of $1.2 million can be pared down

The bad news is that the Okanagan Skaha School District is facing a possible budget shortfall of nearly $1.2 million.

The good news is that secretary-treasurer Ron Shongrunden said this is far from a final figure, and he hopes to reduce that much further.

“We anticipate we can do some things that will make that much lower,” said Shongrunden.

In fact, he continued, when he made his initial presentation to the board of education, the initial forecast was in the $800,000 range. “This is a fluid document. It will change over the next month.”

Okanagan Skaha kicked off the public portion of its budget planning process for 2012-13 Wednesday evening at Penticton Secondary with the first of a series of presentations on the proposed budget. Over the next month, they will be meeting with a variety of stakeholder groups, from parent advisory committees to the teachers’ union and CUPE, looking for input on budget priorities and ideas on how to reduce that shortfall.

And, as they have for the last two years, they will also be gathering input through a web-based survey tool, accessible through their website at sd67.bc.ca.

Taking a long-term, multi-year approach is key to smoothing out the ups and downs of how the Ministry of Education does funding, said Shongrunden. But another big key to keeping budget shortfalls low in Okanagan Skaha has been advocacy by the district’s board of education.

“If you are looking at it long term, it’s millions of dollars that we don’t have to cut because of that advocacy,” said Shongrunden.

The list of successful appeals by the district include continued funding protection against dropping enrolments, not only for Okanagan Skaha but the entire province. They’ve also been advocating for help with high utility costs due to higher than average rates in Penticton and Summerland.

“We were successful at the local level. Summerland has lowered their rates and Penticton has chosen to keep their commercial rates at 2011 levels. We have yet to secure additional funding from the province, but we will continue our efforts,” said board of education chair Ginny Manning. “And just recently, a letter was sent requesting that any strike savings be left in the district to help mitigate a number of costs that were incurred as a result of the six-month job action as well as a number of issues that we have.”

That letter also produced positive results, with the province announcing earlier this week that $7 million out of the $37 million saved will stay in local school districts.

Okanagan Skaha’s share of that will be about $70,000, according to school superintendent Wendy Hyer. That will go to helping reduce this year’s budget deficit.

“It is a bit too early to tell and we expect some things to happen. I am optimistic the number won’t be near the high, $1.2 million end. I am optimistic that we’ll be able to work at something a little bit lower,” said Hyer.

Working through the budget is a tough job, said Manning, especially since the way the ministry allocates funding changes from year to year.

“It’s always a bit depressing. However, as Ron said, we are right at the beginning of all this. We don’t know all the rules regarding the funding yet. We also have a lot of different numbers to work through,” said Manning. “We are hoping to work it out in the end to follow our goals and to keep any changes we make away from the classroom as best we can.”