School board balances hefty budget

School District 20’s board faced the difficult task of making further cuts to its budget for 2011 and while they balanced the budget on Monday, it came at considerable cost to teachers, CUPE and district staff.

The budget review committee faced the daunting task of reducing a $1.2-million deficit in order to balance the board’s approximately $38-million budget.

The committee found $700,000 worth of savings but the school board was left to axe an additional $450,000 to balance the books.

Board chair Gordon Smith heard first and second readings before moving the meeting to a committee of the whole.

“It’s advantageous for the board to move to committee at this point so we can relax procedural rules,” said Smith.

Despite the district’s recommendations to move or eliminate the alternative online learning program at Blueberry Elementary, cut a Russian language position at Twin Rivers, and teacher librarian positions, most programs remained intact.

However, teachers took a hit for the second year in a row when trustees voted to increase class sizes, saving about $100,000, from 23.5 to 24 students.

“Pushing the limits on class sizes and composition results in increased stress levels for teachers and a reduction in the amount of individual, face-to-face, support time students can have with them,” said Andrew Davidoff, Kootenay-Columbia Teachers Union president.

However, with the recent court ruling for the B.C. Teachers Federation that the Liberals acted illegally when stripping class sizes and composition limits from teachers’ contracts in 2002, the move to increase class size may prove premature.

“We have to ask what is the implication of the court ruling,” said Davidoff.

As part of the budget process another concern for teachers and CUPE workers was that the deficit and projected cuts were not announced until a few weeks ago.

The lengthy public consultation process and meeting in February where teachers, staff and parents pitched 80 projects totaling over $3.5 million in funding, was essentially a waste of time, says Davidoff.

However, district staff disagree.

“Even if we were in a deficit position, and a great idea came up, why wouldn’t we take advantage of it and make room for it,” said district treasurer Kim Morris pointing to the recent success of math-lead teachers in the classroom.

In the budget process, CUPE suffered the majority of the cuts. Their salaries represent 19 per cent of the budget but they accounted for almost 39 per cent of cuts including over 100-man hours loss of work.

Efforts to further cut hours by instituting a centralized call out for teachers and thus reducing more CUPE hours was defeated.

“I am feeling a little sympathetic for CUPE, because we’ve already hit it once already maybe we should look at something different,” said trustee Vince Morelli.

However, the board passed a recommendation not to replace full-time CUPE staff with on-call employees during summer vacation periods at a savings of $50,000.

“They are people who are simply on a call-out basis . . . not regular scheduled employees,” said treasurer Kim Morris.

The Board also essentially reduced teacher hours by increasing principals and vice principals teaching time and projecting a reduced administrator to student ratio of 340 to one.

The board also agreed to eliminate the assistant superintendent position for a savings of $125,000, shuffled over $100,000 from reserves, and the trustees agreed to reduce their pro-d day budget by $500 each.

After three hours and with close to $27,000 still in the red, superintendent Jean Borsa shuffled $15,000 from observational learning fund and almost $13,000 from services and supplies to balance the budget.

Despite the balanced budget, the Ministry of Education’s funding formula continues to make budget projections difficult, says Morris.

“Until the ministry secures our funding formula in a sustainable way, we do what we can from year to year.”