Ron Shongrunden

Ron Shongrunden

Penticton school district seeking to vanquish $900,000 deficit

Top number cruncher warns using savings and reserves won't address an even larger structural deficit

An early analysis shows the local school district will have to vanquish a $900,000 deficit to balance next year’s budget.

The Okanagan Skaha School District unveiled its forecast on Wednesday at a public meeting that kicked off the budget consultation process, and officials insist a plan to conquer the deficit will only be drawn up after they’ve collected input from staff and parent groups.

“April of any year in school districts is a pretty tough month. It’s meeting after meeting, and it’s talking and talking. And truly, we take everybody’s concerns and comments into consideration when we finally sit down and take a good look at the budget,” Trustee Linda Van Alphen told the meeting at Penticton Secondary School.

Projections for 2013-14 peg revenue at $54.8 million and expenses at $56.3 million, leaving a gap of $1.5 million. That should be offset by $600,000 in one-time savings, leaving a shortfall of $900,000.

Secretary-treasurer Ron Shongrunden explained that about 95 per cent of the district’s revenue is derived from provincial grants, which are expected to decline by $800,000 next year due to lower enrolment.

On the expense side, about 83 per cent is spent on salaries and benefits, Shongrunden continued, while the balance goes to services and supplies. Management pay has been frozen for four years, he added.

But despite gloomy initial projections the past few years, trustees have found ways to close the gaps.

For 2012-13, the initial deficit was pegged at $1.8 million, but was quickly trimmed by $1 million from savings and reserves. The final $800,000 was covered with the elimination of eight full-time equivalent jobs, and cuts to maintenance and transportation budgets.

Shongrunden said at a board meeting Monday that the budget surplus for 2012-13 is projected at “several hundred thousand” dollars, which could be applied to next year’s deficit.

He warned Wednesday, however, that despite past efforts to gradually reduce operating expenditures, a $1.5-million structural deficit remains, and applying savings or reserves does nothing to tame it.

Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union president Leslea Pryde is nervous about what the budget deficit means for her members.

“I’ve been told that it could affect staffing, and I’m just hoping that with retirements and everything (that) things are going to balance out and we’re not going to have to give out pink slips,” she said.

The head of the local support staff union took a similar position, but added it’s workers like tradesman and educational assistants who seem to have borne the brunt of past budget cuts.

“This district runs on one plumber,” said Mike Johnson, unit chair of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Four parents also spoke at the meeting to advocate for special programs like those for French immersion students and gifted kids.

School officials will next week begin a series of meetings with parent and staff groups. Trustees are then scheduled to adopt the budget at their May 13 board meeting. Public input is still being accepted on the district website at