Northwestern B.C. school district cuts budget deficit in half

Coast Mountains school district uses savings sent back by the province

Coast Mountains School District has been able to cut a forecast budget shortfall in half thanks to a move by the provincial government.

That move resulted in the province providing nearly $250,000 to the school district, part of $25 million the province said it was now returning to school districts after telling to come up with overall savings in the past several years.

“Prior to this recently announced relief of $248,728, our 2016-2017 draft preliminary budget working document was showing a deficit of just over $450,000,” said school district secretary-treasurer Alanna Cameron in assessing the situation.

“With the return of these funds, our draft shortfall was reduced significantly.”

The school district still faces, however, a shortfall of approximately $200,000.

Cameron said the budget will not be finalized until June 22, but the preliminary budget prepared by a working group seems to be working out.

“Members were able to provide recommendations as to how costs could be reduced by the $200,000 shortfall in order to come to a balanced budget, without any direct impact on services or programs to students,” she said.

Local teachers union president Cathy Lambright said that the majority of the cuts were in learner support and information technology.

“The budget is just not adequate to run our school district,” Lambright said, adding that every year the school districts have had to struggle with rising costs and budget shortages.

“Costs have gone up, the government has not funded them, and the districts have been told that they have to make do,” Lambright said.

She said that BC Hydro bills, maintenance expenses, salaries for teachers and administrators and trustee remunerations have all gone up.

“I don’t think that there is a better way to deal with the shortfall. Yes, there were a few things that [the union] suggested that were not done,” Lambright said, adding that they tried to focus on things that would not directly affect students.

“We suggested that vice-principals be eliminated in the schools, because we can’t afford them,” she said, adding that teachers suggested the same thing last year.

“Part of the reason for the vice principals is succession planning, but unfortunately the district can’t afford a succession plan at this point in time,” she said.

Teachers also suggested managing data in a new way, and making cuts to distance education, trades administration, and administrator training as ways of coping with less money.

“The board can only do so much with so little,” Lambright said of the situation.