School districts across the province, including Okanagan Skaha, are going to be picking up the tab for property insurance in next year’s budget, thanks to an announcement last week by the provincial government that they were downloading that responsibility.
“It is a modest departure from the practice of the past. It is something which school board officials, their business and financial officials have been discussing with the ministry for well over a year,” said Education Minister George Abbott in the legislature last week, responding to assertions from NDP members that the move was going to add $3 million to the financial burden already being born by the school districts.
Abbott also announced last week that they were releasing $8 million to the school districts in new funding, also commenting in legislature that he hoped he would hear just as strong opinions about that.
However, the $8 million isn’t new money coming into the system. Rather, said school district secretary-treasurer Ron Shongrunden, it’s holdback funds that weren’t distributed in December. Normally the funds are kept in reserve and paid out to balance increased enrolment.
“However, it is different for districts under funding protection. If we see certain increases in enrolment we don’t get the money,” said Shongrunden, adding that the funds weren’t given out in December to districts that were under funding protection, including Okanagan Skaha.
“We’ll be getting some extra dollars from the ministry. It’s kind of a prepaid expense for next year’s insurance,” said Shongrunden.
While the provincial government has tried to present the downloading of insurance premiums as a minor change, Shongrunden doesn’t see it as a positive light.
“If we’re paying for it, I don’t see any benefit,” he said. “We don’t know how they are actually going to proceed with that.”
If funding is increased to match, it won’t be an issue, according to Shongrunden. If it isn’t funded, however, it becomes more of a problem, and demonstrates the inequalities in the funding formula used by the provincial government.
“We didn’t get one penny in December, while a lot of districts got them. We didn’t think that was fair; only certain districts are getting the benefit of those dollars and others are not,” he said. “They hold back money if you have increased enrolment. However, it is different for districts under funding protection; if we see certain increases in enrolment we don’t get the money.”
School districts and officials have been advocating for the province to rethink the funding formula to make it more equitable, as well as more predictable.
“The rules change every year, you have to kind of guess what’s going to happen,” he said. “I had a little bit of suspicion it would happen so I made some provision for it.”
According to Abbott, this change represents good value for B.C. taxpayers and only represents a change of 0.00051 percent of the overall budget for the Ministry of Education.