KELOWNA - Some late additions to the Central Okanagan school district’s 2015 budget has pushed the anticipated shortfall to $1.5 million on a budget of $220 million.
“The superintendent wanted to add two programs he thought were worth supporting,” says secretary-treasurer Larry Paul, who pegged the cost of the programs at $133,000. “He’s looking to support an outdoor education-style program and reinstate the aboriginal mental health clinician position. These are for vulnerable aboriginal youth.”
The remaining $1.37 million will be covered by a combination of service cuts and revenue increases, Paul says, including a doubling of the current school bus fee to $200 from $100, which will raise $400,000, a push to increase revenue from the international education program by $230,000 and the WorkSafe B.C. shared services program by $50,000.
“We’re going to add 25 more students to international ed,” Paul says. “This isn’t going to be hard as there is a lot of interest in the Central Okanagan. If fact, we’ve been controlling growth in that area because of demand. We don’t want to get where it’s overwhelming."
Paul said no real job cuts will occur, although some positions will be eliminated through attrition and the district will reduce the number of summer maintenance staff to six from 12 as part of an overall cut of $275,000 to the operations budget.
The district will save an additional $300,000 by eliminating the inflationary increase which is usually built into the budget each year.
“This year the message is ‘suck it up, guys,” Paul says.
He took aim at the root of the budget cuts, a demand by the Ministry of Education that school districts across the province share equally in a $29-million budget shortfall he attributes to the contract settlement with teachers last fall.
“This is back on the government. Had they not hit us with the $29 million, we wouldn’t have a budget issue,” he said.
School board chair Moyra Baxter was even more blunt in her assessment of the budget woes the district is facing and she praised the conservative budget practices the board has followed over the years.
“Really the budget pressure is over $4 million,” she said. “Every year funds come in late in the year from the ministry after they have made their final calculations. The board has made it a habit not to spend those funds but to carry them over until the next year. So we are carrying over $3 million from last year from what I like to call our contingency fund.”
School trustees will consider the preliminary budget at its regular board meeting Wednesday, April 29. Once approved, the budget bylaw will be adopted sometime in June and will then be forwarded to the Ministry of Education for an audit.
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