School District 20 facing million-dollar shortfall

District's projects budget deficit for 2012-13 school year

School District 20 (SD20) could be facing a deficit of $1.2 million come next school year, it was projected at a school board meeting Monday night.

SD20 secretary-treasurer Natalie Verigin was already foreseeing a $450,000 shortfall, which was covered this year by a one-time surplus, plus an additional $200,000 in replacement labour costs – a trend the district is already seeing in terms of money spent in areas such as substitute teaching – but was not prepared for a change in the educational funding formula recently announced by Minister of Education George Abbott.

With the loss of some money in “funding protection,” which tops up budgets of school districts that face dwindling enrolment, SD20 could receive 98.5 per cent of its funding from the province, which is a loss of about $540,000 in a worst-case scenario.

While the exact deduction will not be known until mid-March, the district is left anticipating what will result in the Kootenay-Columbia.

“We’ve emptied out the piggy bank, then there are those kinds of funds that we don’t anticipate being there for next year so you add up all those pieces together and it’s a pretty tough situation potentially,” said Greg Luterbach, superintendent of schools.

The school board passed a draft budget timeline document at Monday’s meeting, which involves all nine of the trustees in balancing the budget. It also commits the board to holding some open meetings throughout this process and to open the dialogue up to stakeholders like teachers, support staff and the public.

While budget talks have yet to start, new trustees will dive right into training in preparation for discussions mostly held throughout April in hopes of passing a budget by May 4.

“For the last six or seven years we’ve been cutting services to kids to balance the budget and we’ve cut and cut and cut and now we’re at the point where I don’t think we can make it up with just simply continued cuts to services to kids,” said SD20 board chair Darrel Ganzert.

“The only other way to make it up would be school closures.”

Added to the pressure, he said, schools are now left implementing the province’s new B.C. education plan, a personalized approach to learning, which doesn’t come with funding but will likely require teacher training.

“We can’t keep our heads above water as it is and then to add more pressures like this to our budget, there is going to be a lot of pain – plain and simple,” added Ganzert.

The school board plans on writing a letter to the minister, asking him to reconsider cuts to the funding protection plan, but Ganzert doubts it will hold much weight.

“I don’t think there are many districts that are going to suffer like ours will because of that so I think it will simply just fall on deaf ears,” he said.

Tough decisions are ahead for the board that will likely use the Planning for the Future document, which highlights district facility operational costs, as a reference during budgetary discussions.