Provincial budget short on answers for school district

Though Finance Minister Colin Hansen is billing education funding as being at its highest level ever, officials with the Okanagan Skaha School District say the 2011 “status quo” provincial budget is bringing little change to their own budgets.

Though Finance Minister Colin Hansen is billing education funding as being at its highest level ever, officials with the Okanagan Skaha School District say the 2011 “status quo” provincial budget is bringing little change to their own budgets.

“The per pupil funding is up slightly, so that is to accommodate the final rollout of full-day kindergarten. There is added expense to having all our students attend kindergarten full time, that is what the additional $58 million is for, provincewide,” said trustee Connie Denesiuk, who attended the budget lockup Tuesday in her role as president of the B.C. School Trustees Association.

However, that doesn’t mean school districts are going to escape having to deal with a shortfall this year, she continued.

“When you consider inflationary costs, utilities, supplies, areas that are out of the control of a board of education … those are not reflected,” she said. “So we know that boards of education across the province are going to have to make some tough decisions, again, to balance their budgets.”

Secretary-treasurer Ron Shongrunden said that he didn’t see a lot of change overall in education funding, but they won’t have a clear idea of how the money will be filtered into the school districts until March 15.

“When we get our actual funding, we’ll know more then,” he said. “The good news is that at least the funding for the overall education budget seems to be the same or at least slightly increased.

“It’s not like it’s been slashed. That’s always good news for us, that the funding that was there before is still retained.”

Shongrunden also hopes the funding protection SD67 is under, helping to compensate for declining enrolment, will continue, but again, that is wait and see.

“That is a little bit of an issue to us. The ministry has said it’s under review. I am hoping that it is still there and we’ll know by March 15,” said Shongrunden.

“I think everybody is at that status quo stage, potential new minister, potential new government, potential provincial election, potential new premier. Nothing is going to happen until all those things happen — I think you might see some changes after that.”

Both Shongrunden and Denesiuk hope that those changes will bring some progress for the province’s education system.

“What we’re looking for is a funding formula that we can have some confidence in, that we know is fair for everybody,” Shongrunden said. “We have a population-based model that doesn’t always work when you have the kind of declining enrolment we have now. “We’re not asking necessarily for more money, we’re asking to make sure what money is there is fairly allocated between the districts and on a basis that is transparent and easy for us to understand.”

Denesiuk is calling for the new leader to show more support for the education system and the vision for personalized education that has been developed.

“Education is not an area that we want to shortchange, and with this vision for personalized learning, we can be the global leaders,” she said. “The potential is there that our students will not be amongst the top, but they can in fact be the top in terms of competitiveness in the world market.”

Planning for the school district’s 2011/12 budget begins in the spring with dates for public participation and consultation being brought forward at the board’s next finance and education committee meeting on March 9.