Smaller budget transfer will allow School District 83 to avoid program cuts

School District 83 board chair Bobbi Johnson.

VERNON - Instead of transferring $1 million into capital funds this year, the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District will use a large chunk of the money to save programs and services from being cut.

School District 83’s secretary-treasurer Nicole Bittante has given trustees the option of balancing the 2016-2017 projected budget shortfall of $1.3 million by using funds which would normally be moved to the local capital fund, which is used for the renovation, replacement and purchase of property, buildings, buses, vehicles, furniture and equipment.

The board of education has been under fire in recent months after parents discovered $10.5 million in surplus operating funds were transferred into capital over the past five years. Some of the money was used to build the new $9-million District Education Support Centre and a $1-million facility in the school works yard.

While the board was given a list of possible cutbacks that would help balance the books back in April of this year, Bittante has now presented trustees with an option which would transfer $500,000 into local capital and leave $500,000 in the operating budget — instead of moving the full $1 million into capital, as has been the practice in previous years. Bittante also recommended using $150,000 of benefit premium holiday money to help balance the budget.

Trustees voted to accept the option at a board meeting yesterday, May 10, although they still need to officially approve the budget.

Being able to balance the books without drastic cuts to student programs got at least one trustee questioning whether there was money to find all along.

“Were we scared for no reason because there was money to find?” trustee Chris Coers said. “I almost feel like we were scaring people for nothing, because there were things that could be adjusted that we could access that we didn’t even know we could entertain.”

Describing the list of cost-saving measures brought to the board in April, Coers noted most were not even needed.

“I just thought there was a whole lot of panic and crisis. There was a whole lot of stuff going on where we were not going to enjoy going through this process and yet we managed to find the dollars to balance without doing any of those drastic things,” Coers said.

But Bittante stressed these are one-time savings and the board will not be able to avoid tough decisions next year.

“I just want to caution trustees that this is a great option, it takes the pressure off, but next year we will be looking at programs, I guarantee you. You were scared a couple of months ago, you will be scared next year,” Bittante said.

Board chair Bobbi Johnson said the list of possible cuts was not a ‘scare tactic’ and added that without the hard work of district staff, they would have been forced to bring the axe down on programs and services this year.

A planned restructuring of the district’s alternate programs is going ahead, and is projected to save $150,000. Meanwhile, there will be some cuts made to the deaf and hard-of-hearing program based on a lower number of affected students.

During question period, the board was asked if it would consider presenting an unbalanced budget to the province as a way of tackling the root issue of insufficient government funding for education.

“By law we have to have a balanced budget. Part of our oath is to do a balanced budget and we will continue to do that,” board chair Bobbi Johnson said.

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