School District 20: Long list on chopping block to balance budget

District staff and trustees looking for feedback on potential reductions.

School District 20 is looking for community feedback on cost saving measures that could include the elimination of all exterior window washing and free bussing.

The annual grocery list of cuts, add ons or shifts in money placement has been developed based on a predicted deficit of nearly $730,000 in the 2014/2015 budget. This is largely a result of the Ministry of Education phasing out funding protection and an increase in staffing costs as a result of the CUPE contract settlement, according to superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach.

“We had hoped to have stopped the decline in enrolment, therefore we wouldn’t need the funding protection,” said Luterbach. “But when we got to the end of last September, we sat at about 100 students less than we projected.”

Developing the 2014/2015 budget starts by maintaining all elements of last year’s budget (status quo), followed by the creation of a “long list” of options toward achieving a balanced budget. After public feedback, a short list is created and lastly a recommendation to the board, which has the final say.

This year’s long list, when every possibility “is thrown up on the board,” was sent out directly to parents recently in an effort to be transparent, said Luterbach. Regularly, he would inform the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), which would then circulate the information to individual parent advisory committees.

“We recognize that the list is far reaching,” Luterbach said in an email that accompanied the budget adjustment list. “We also are very sensitive to the fact that many of the items on the list may impact our employees’ livelihoods.”

The long list includes the reduction of up to five teachers to match the 3,786 students anticipated next school year, down from a previous enrolment of 3,915 students.

There are many options around reducing/eliminating teacher librarians and or library assistants, which is an option that tends to pop up annually.

Among the contentious items is the possibility of reducing one tradesperson and or eliminating all exterior windows washing and front entrance pressure washing crews during the summer.

“When you’re $729,000 short, you’re looking at all options so this isn’t a preferred list, this is a brain-stormed list coming from staff that looks at all possibilities,” said Luterbach. “There is no doubt about it that this one (a drop in cleaning standards) has caught the eye of a number of people.”

Other cost-saving possibilities include eliminating school iPads/laptops/secondary lab replacements and eliminating all bussing (the greatest savings of about $375,000) and providing $35 a month per child outside the walking limits.

“It’s a big savings to the board and is quite a drastic change so when you talk about trying to find $700,000 after we had to close two schools last year, it’s basically just looking at things differently,” added Luterbach.  “Whether the board will do it, again will be up to the nine member who raise their hands.”

The public is invited to view the draft budget and fill out a survey on SD20’s website (www.sd20.bc.ca) or speak directly to a trustee. A presentation of the proposed balanced budget will be held April 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Kootenay-Columbia Learning Centre (KCLC),  the Trail campus formally known as the Trail Middle School. No decisions will be made at this time.

The public will again be invited to take part in discussions April 28 at 7 p.m., when a second reading of the budget is scheduled as part of the board’s regular meeting at KCLC. The third and final reading of the budget, which doesn’t include debate, is set for May 2 at 5 p.m. at the same location.

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