Northwest school board passes balanced budget

Fewer students means fewer teachers will be needed

THE Coast Mountains School District’s board of trustees has voted unanimously to approve a 2013 budget of approximately $52.5 million, almost $900,000 less than the year before.

The reduction reflects a projection of fewer students when school doors open this fall, said school board chair Art Erasmus.

“Fewer students means we need fewer teachers,” he said of one area of cost reduction.

Figures prepared for the board indicate the district is expecting 140 fewer students this fall. The student count this month, not including correspondence students or pre-school enrollment, is 4,800 which in itself is a drop of 99 students from last fall.

Balancing the budget was “a long process,” said board chair Art Erasmus. “But we followed the law.”

Erasmus did add that the district did receive $600,000 from a provincial government account meant to provide more assistance for classes containing larger numbers of special needs students.

And it also received $99,000 for a program to emphasize reading for kindergarten to grade 3 students.

Erasmus said school boards are required by law to submit a balanced budget to the provincial government. Failure to do so can result in school trustees being fired and replaced with a provincial appointee, robbing voters of their vote.

But this process proves difficult when department wish lists tally up to more than the board can afford.

In the case of the Coast Mountains district, the board had to trim close to $500,000 off of the departments’ initial wish list in order to submit a balanced budget by the deadline of June 30.

This is the first year the board implemented a budget working committee, made up of students, staff, principals, administrators and trustees, to look at what the district could cut and what it should keep.

The committee held seven meetings over the last few months, finding around $478,000 in savings. The remaining $31,000 of cuts were found by the business committee.

Erasmus said money is being saved thanks to the closure this month of Thornhill Junior Secondary School and the dispersal of its students to either the Skeena Middle School or Caledonia.

“You can turn the heat down and there’s less maintenance,” he said.

Aside from fewer teachers, the school district won’t need as many support staff because of Thornhill Junior’s closure.

Trustees praised the new collaborative budget committee process, citing it as an educational opportunity to better understand the district’s wants.

“The process we’ve started is working well, all partners are on the table, and the department is working well,” said Kitimat trustee Raymond Raj.

One B.C. school district is refusing to balance their budget, saying they cannot make any more cuts and still provide a quality education. The Cowichan Valley board is asking for support as it plans to submit a budget more than $3.7 million in the red.

When asked if the Coast Mountain trustees would be supporting the Cowichan board, Erasmus said the board’s position was clear.

“Certainly we could use more money,” he said. “But we’re going to act in accordance with the law—that’s why we presented the balanced budget.”