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Schol District 69's budget balanced

School District 69’s board of trustees got their first look at the proposed budget for next year, two weeks after the announcement of the closure of four schools.

“This has been as unusual a year as you can imagine, with as much uncertainty as you could ever imagine,” summed up superintendent Rollie Koop after he and staff had gone through a few dozen overhead slides touching on hundreds of individual items and categories in the 2014/15 preliminary budget.

With their operating revenue expected to be down about $1.3 million next year, including $235,000 less from the main provincial grant, staff managed to present the provincially required balanced budget at just over $48 million.

Revenue for the largest category, called “function 1,” covering education programs, is projected to be down $878,000, despite the unknown effects of ongoing teacher contract negotiations at the provincial level.

And that is accounting for the projected $919,000 deficit at the end of the current school year.

Though there will be one time costs to closing the schools and moving students into different schools, the projected budget shows savings of $1.15 million including $540,000 in administrative salaries and benefits.

Despite the size of the budget, staff is working through the fine details for savings and finding some in areas like combining phone and fax lines to save $2,300 a year, or cutting their $10,000 snow removal budget in half.

With planning for the next school year already underway, Koop asked for and got a motion allowing staff to go ahead with staffing decisions now, well before the budget is completed in June. He assured trustees “the budget is simply a plan that we adjust along the way.”

He stressed that this is the very first step of the budget process and things could change based on trustee priorities, consultation with partner groups and as more specific numbers come in.

“By our accounts thats a good news story,” Koop said. “This is a first run at things and I think a comfortable one (that)… gives you room to work on a go forward basis.”

Koop said that the school closures, which he called “right-sizing” was a key first step, but they are continuing to look for further efficiencies.

Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association president Debbie Morran expressed frustration over the fact members of the public did not get copies of the budget to follow along as details were discussed, saying that has been standard practice in the past.

Koop said they didn’t plan to distribute copies that day because they had been working on the budget right up to that afternoon and it was so fresh.

“That really isn’t adequate at all,” Morran said. “We’re partners in this venture and for us to potentially have to wait till the next meeting to have the document in its entirety, to be able to provide information to trustees in terms of feedback is not adequate.”

Koop agreed to try and get the document on the district website (www.sd69.bc.ca) as soon as possible.

The board has special budget, or regular board meetings scheduled for the next three Tuesday’s in a row at 7 p.m. in the Parksville Civic and Technology Centre.

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