Budgetary blow takes the wind out of School District 20’s sail

SD 20 will be holding a special open school board meeting at Trail Middle School Monday night to discuss the new budget.

With a potential $1.55 million rent forthcoming in the budgetary hull of the school district, $350,000 more than first projected in mid-January, the board of trustees is beginning the process of righting the ship.

Today the School District No. 20’s board (Kootenay-Boundary) begins the arduous process of bailing out the boat that has been listing in murky financial waters after the Ministry of Education announced it was changing the educational funding formula in early January.

A reduction in funding protection — a guaranteed budget amount from the province — has meant the district will lose more than $500,000 from their $36 million budget.

Coupled with a forecast $450,000 shortfall on operations, and now a $350,000 impact from the substitute salary budget — used for covering teacher absences — the board will grapple with how they can solve the riddle in a special open board meeting tonight at Trail Middle School (6 p.m.).

The board is expected to pass an amended annual budget bylaw for the current school year of $37,600,000, as well as announcing how it will cover the costs and cushion the cuts.

Although the current budget is a done deal, the board isn’t accepting its financial fate lying down.

Two letters will be sent this week to Minister of Education, George Abbott, expressing disappointment that SD20 is a district tasked “to do more with less,” asking for a reinstatement of its protected funding level.

SD20 chair Darrel Ganzert pointed to school closures — nine in the last 10 years — and a rebuilt budget as measures the board had already instituted to tighten its belt, and felt that was enough.

But under the new funding formula from the province, the district will likely not receive any of the additional rural and remote or low enrolment factor funding.

“This … will force the board to revisit a number of learning initiatives we have implemented in the past few years,” Ganzert said, which will negatively impact their achievement initiatives.

He said quality teaching and learning programs — additional teacher staffing to support academic change, personalization and enhancing teacher practice — improved technology and effective intervention for students who are struggling would disappear.

Funding criteria and an identification process for students with unique needs was a key part of the educational process in SD20, Ganzert pointed out.

“As a board we have made children with unique needs a budgetary priority through the allocation of significant funds to try and address the needs of these children,” he said.

An internal review looked at staffing costs for the program and found the entire unique needs budget was being spent, in addition to the entire basic grant for the students and additional district funds.

That left no money for operations and building maintenance, equipment and supplies, resources and administration.

The board will also be entertaining budget presentations from CUPE (Local 1285), the Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union and the District Parent Advisory Council on March 7 at a committee of the whole budget meeting at Blueberry Community School (6 p.m.).

“We ask that your presentation provide us with some realistic and sustainable ideas to consider as we begin the very difficult work of balancing the upcoming 2012-2013 budget,” said Ganzert in a letter to the three groups.

The estimated shortfall is due largely to three factors: $225,000 of one-time surplus dollars used to balance the 2011-2012 budget; $540,000 in less operating grant expected from the Ministry of Education due to their formula change in the funding protection supplementary grant calculation; and at least $338,000 in anticipated increased labour and benefit costs.