School District 20 returns strike savings to province

Ministry of Education reclaims over $1 million from Kootenay-Columbia

School District 20 (SD20) has given the Ministry of Education just over $1 million of the $1.3 million it saved when teachers were on the picket lines at the end of the last school year.

Back in June, school boards across the province were told to return 80 per cent of the money saved during strike days in the 2013-2014 school year – a topic on the agenda at Monday’s SD20 board meeting. A large part of the meeting included a presentation of the 2013-2014 school year budget audit and showed significant savings because of the strike action.

“We have our teacher savings from May and June and we had to send 80 per cent of it back to the ministry,” said Natalie Verigin, secretary-treasurer of the board, adding that $260,000 in teacher savings shown in their budget, represented the 20 per cent of strike savings the board was allowed to keep. “Also, because of the strike, we had no replacements that were needed because we had no staff to replace. The unspent portion of that of the replacement budget was just over $115,000.”

Teacher salaries and replacement costs weren’t the only places the board saved dollars.

After paying back the Ministry of Education, the school district saved, and gets to keep, over $600,000 from last May and June, but a large chunk is being set aside in case it needs to get paid out in the future.

“Of that $600,000, we have $250,000 set aside because we may have to end up paying it out,” said Verigin. “That money is saved up from not having to pay CUPE wages during the strike. That money may be flowed back out to the CUPE depending on whether we locally ratify our contract with them by the end of November. It is set aside as a $250,000 contingent liability.”

For the days missed in the 2014-2015 school year because of the strike, school boards are being asked to return 100 per cent of savings from September. In a letter dated Sept. 12 from the Ministry of Education, all school districts were asked to give back teachers’ wages, benefits, replacement costs, utility and facility money along with transportation, professional development, travel and supply costs saved during the 13 strike days in September.

The financial statements presented at the board meeting didn’t just cover the savings from the strike, but the budget for the entire 2013-2014 school year.

The total surplus from the year amounted to $2.7 million, a number Verigin says is higher than the board is used to seeing.

“Total revenues received were $35 million with total expenses at $33 million leaving an operating surplus of $1.87 million,” she said. “From that we deduct our capital expenditures, so we end up with an operating surplus of $1.3 million. Added to the surplus that we had prior, we have accumulated a surplus of $2.7 million. That is a large number and more than the board has had over the last few years.”

Part of the reason for the large surplus, according to Verigin, are portions of money coming into the school board’s accounts, but weren’t designated to a certain purpose in their annual budget.

“In the 2013-2014 year, we had added revenues that didn’t make it into our budget and wasn’t allocated to any budget line item,” she said. “Some of this is a result of the release of the holdback fund from the Ministry of Education. We don’t ever account for our money in that budget because we don’t know if the ministry will be releasing holdback monies. It is always a surprise. There have been years where the ministry has no holdback money left over after it had done allocation funding to other districts.”

Along with holdback money, the board renegotiated rates with its banker to allow for higher interest rates and included carry-forward money in their announced surplus.

“Every budget year, we allocate supply money to all of the schools depending on how many students are in that school,” said Verigin. “So, a school might get $200,000 a year and they have to run their school with that. If they choose to buy some iPads, they can set aside some money every year until they have enough money in reserves that they can make the purchase. If we had a budget mentality of, ‘here is your money and if you don’t spend it all, we are going to take it back.’ We feel that they would be spending it for the sake of spending it.”

To see a full version of the SD20 board’s 2013-2014 school year audit, visit www.sd20.bc.ca. The next SD20 board meeting will be on Oct. 27 in Castlegar.

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