School Distrit 20 budget decided – for now

The school district’s current budget is a done deal — at least for the next few days.

The school district’s current budget is a done deal — at least for the next few days.

With the Ministry of Education known to historically spring late funding and financial changes on its districts, Monday night’s approval of the 2011-2012 annual budget bylaw by the SD20 (Kootenay Boundary) board of trustees could be moot.

The board approved an amended $37.6-million budget, up from $36 million, in a special open board meeting, but board chair Darrel Ganzert was pessimistic the province wasn’t done tinkering with the funding formula changes they made earlier this year — costing the district its funding protection, a guaranteed budget amount from the province.

He pointed to previous late changes — such as the per-student funding change they made a few years ago — as an example of how the ministry kept the school district hopping, even though they have closed the book on the budget.

Ganzert said the province stopped funding per student from grades 10-12, opting to fund per course taken. It occurred in October for that year, after the current school budget had been set, throwing the district into a panic for nearly two months.

“That’s a hidden change we face as a board as the province has, for want of a better term, downloaded a lot of the costs to the board, a little bit at a time,” he said.

“Yes, we are planning for the worst case scenario, but the government has the opportunity to make that worst case even worse, if they choose to.”

The province recently decided it will not cover a 14 per cent increase in union benefit premiums — for medical and dental — as outlined in their respective contracts. The board pays the majority of those premiums through contractual obligations to the two unions, meaning they now have to find that money once the figure is determined.

In a closed meeting on Monday the board was given a brief explanation of each of the cuts the school district is entertaining to balance the budget for the next year, as well as a run down on some of the possible revenue streams they could incorporate.

Those general items are to be released later this week as the board looks to begin scheduling open houses on the budget, soliciting public input on the changes they are considering.

Next week SD20’s two unions and the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) have been invited to a committee of the whole budget meeting at Blueberry Community School (March 7, 6 p.m.) to give the board some vision of where they see education going in the district in the next few years.

None of the three groups — from CUPE (Local 1285), the Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union (KCTU) and the DPAC — have confirmed.

“Neither of the two unions have expressed an interest in meeting … just to talk about where education should head in our district, they really want to see where the cuts are before they make any comment,” Ganzert said.

KCTU president Andy Davidoff said the union needs to see what the board’s intentions were before they present.

“We are facing the most serious fiscal crisis in our whole history,” he said. “The problem is our local board is not sharing anything and any of its intentions with respect to cuts with anyone.”

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

“I believe the provincial government is under funding education and ought to be doing a better job for all of us, it is our future,” said Ganzert.

One area where the budget process broke down this year was the elimination of the budget review committee, said Davidoff.

He pointed to the dissolution of the committee — which included both union representatives and trustees — this year as part of the reason the school district was faced with escalating costs.

“The process has changed where the board has eliminated the budget review committee, where we used to sit together with the board and review everything,” Davidoff said.

Ganzert said the board opted for a committee of the whole structure, replacing the previous review committee, in order to not “freeze out” trustees who were not on the budget review committee,

“They had no voice, they had no way to question because of the way committees were structured, so they felt out of the loop,” he said.

They solved that problem with the open format that included all trustees, but the problem they created, at least in both of the union’s minds, was they were the ones now being frozen out of the budget process, said Ganzert

But the unions will still have their say in the budget, he added.

“We have to bring the considerations the board is going through to the public at some time, it’s just been decided that now is not the time for that,” Ganzert said.

After that public process is done they will let the unions decide whether they were satisfied with how it all proceeded, said Ganzert, and review the structure for next year.

The board added in committee of the whole meeting every two weeks to review budget items, but it will ramp up meetings as they get closer to making some tough decisions, he added.