OPINION: North Okanagan Shuswap School District responds to questions about budget process

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To support recent statements in the media and in response to questions the board is receiving, the district is issuing the following statement:

School District No. 83 has been receiving a number of questions from both the media and the public regarding financial practices and the budget process.

The district has an open and transparent budget process. Every year our district - trustees, central staff, schools and all of our partner groups - develop a budget from the funding that we receive from the government. The preliminary and final budgets are discussed in public, approved in public and are then posted on the district website.

Year-end financial statements have been audited by the Auditor General of BC and have also been posted on the district's website.

Due to significant enrolment decline over the last number of years, the district is in “funding protection”. Funding protection provides the district with an amount above what the regular funding system would produce, to help ease the pressure associated with the decline in funding. While it is helpful to have additional dollars provided in the short term, it really only serves to delay the inevitable full reduction when the district comes out of the funding protection system. Amounts generated in funding protection have ranged from $700,000 to $2,900,000 in the last few years. The district is currently preparing to come out of funding protection in the next two or three years and needs to prepare for that day.

As is similar practice in many districts, part of the operating budget is annually budgeted for and then transferred to local capital to help purchase items to run the district (i.e. computers/furniture/equipment). The district does not budget for buildings or renovations from the operating budget.

In the last few years, budgets have been developed conservatively in anticipation of the end of funding protection. Because of conservative budgeting and careful spending, the district has realized surpluses at the end of each year. It is important to note that the board does not budget for surpluses, but the district cannot realize a deficit either.

These surpluses have been directed back, for the most part, to the capital fund. This is a practice that has occurred in this district for many years and is common practice in many other districts around the province.

The question has been asked about why surpluses were not directed back to support schools and programs. Using surplus funds to support programs and services creates a structural deficit. Surplus funds are “one-time” monies that cannot be relied upon in future years to sustain the system. Using surplus funds only means that those funds will need to be reduced in the following year, thus creating an unsustainable system.

In 2014, the Board of Education voted to proceed with a local capital plan, which included upgrades to the operations office, construction of the District Education Support Center, renovations at Carlin Middle-Elementary School, and building a new gym at Len Wood Middle School. At the time there was $5.7 million in the local capital fund. The balance for the remainder of the projects were to come from the sale of surplus properties from around the District.

A new board office replacement building has been planned for at least 15 years with various project plans being reviewed. The new building on school district property serves to combine four different buildings into one, and enables the district to close and sell a number of buildings and properties including South Canoe School, land below Shuswap Middle School, and the former Board office.

The district has $2.6 million dollars in property assets which are either currently for sale or pending sale. Any money generated by the sale of these properties will be put towards future school projects at Carlin and in Sicamous.

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