KAMLOOPS – It looks like it’s going to be a lean school year. The Kamloops-Thompson School District was charged with trimming roughly $3 million from their operating budget at the expense of 20 full-time teacher and teacher assistant positions and yet to be determined administration costs.
Last year the district saw a modest increase in enrolment but so far is down 386 students for the 2015-2016 school year. This is the equivalent of losing an entire elementary school. Of course if this population actually came from one school the simplest option would be to close the school. However, since nothing is simple and the drop in student enrolment is scattered throughout the district, the answer to the district's budget woes is not that straight forward.
Financially, this drop in enrolment results in $2.7 million in lost funding. On top of this loss the province is asking the district to cut just over $786,000 in administration, meaning anything and everything from paperclips to maintenance — basically anything that isn’t included as wages or benefits.
In order to balance the budget the school board will cut teachers and education assistants in proportion to the decline. It is not able to reduce other positions such as principals, vice principals, librarians and custodians because the district is still operating the same number of schools.
Questions of who is to be laid-off, as well as when and where, cannot yet be answered. The number of teachers retiring at the end of the school year still needs to be determined and that number will directly affect the number of lay-offs required.
“If we have enough people who retire, we won’t need to lay anyone off,” finance and planning chair Kathleen Karpuk says, adding the schoolboard hasn’t had to lay anyone off for a long time.
Also on the chopping block are administrative costs described as district administration budgets, operating supply budgets, non-contractual professional development, and collective bargaining budget. It will completely depend on how many students show up in September. Even when a clearer picture then emerges, the school board will receive an unknown amount in December from the province through holdback funding.
School board chair Denise Harper explains the $768,000 in cuts is up to each individual department. The board doesn’t ‘micromanage’ Harper says, and therefore the board would not have detailed lists of these cuts.
Karpuk says every year the school board budget is a predicted snapshot.
“That snapshot may or may not be accurate, it is our best guess.”
The budget is constantly shifted through the year, based on such things as students moving in and out of the district, students receiving special designations, and holdback funds.
"As these things shift and change, we shift and change our budgets,” Karpuk says.
TEACHER UNION NOT PLEASED
Karpuk says they do take steps to minimize lay-offs, citing $450,000 was taken out of the operating reserve to try and keep more teaching positions.
David Komjlenovic, president of the Kamloops Thompson Teacher Association, believes the school district has not done enough though.
“At this point the board hasn’t committed to anything, we need a more definitive statement,” he says.
Komljenovic believes the school board can avoid teacher lay-offs by dipping into the $7.4 million in the reserve fund. He is sympathetic of the pressures associated with the budget, but says laying-off teachers then potentially hiring them back when the board finds further funding in September is disruptive.
Harper explains the reserve is a fund set aside for major capital ventures, or catastrophes like if a roof falls in. She adds most schools were built in the 1960s, so the potential for large scale maintenance is ever-present. It would be ‘fiscally irresponsible’ to deplete this fund for the use of salaries.
Komljenovic also cannot understand how the board is adding administrative positions, but cutting teachers.
“Teachers work directly with students.”
The budget report explains as a way to better serve students the district has added vice principals who teach part time. Therefore, two vice principal positions are equal to one additional administrative position.
Also, administrative positions were added over the years because of the advent of things such as technology, computer and information technology staff.
Komljenovic says he will definitely be writing a group letter to the board, as well as taking any opportunity to speak in front of them.
The deadline for written submissions to the finance committee is April 27.
Declining enrolment doesn’t just mean fewer teachers, it means smaller grade cohorts and less course offerings in secondary schools and more multi-grade classes in primary.
Enrollment has been decreasing almost every year since 1997 and is attributed to the fact that fewer kids are being born each year.
One of the biggest challenges, especially as it relates staffing issues, is the discrepancy in the number of children in Kindergarten compared to Grade 12. Currently that difference is 262.
As numbers even out across the board the worst of the financial troubles surrounding enrolment should dissipate. This will likely take at least two years, and until there the school board will continue to face budget challenges.
The school board budget will be presented for adoption Monday, May 11.
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