Enrolment increases in Qualicum school district for second year in a row

The board of trustees for School District 69 expected to pass a $49 million budget tonight (Tuesday)

The Board of Trustees of School District 69 will be asked to approve a budget of more than $49 million for the 2016-17 school year when it meets this evening at the board office in Parksville.

Secretary-treasurer Ron Amos presented a preview of the budget during a special public meeting last Tuesday at the board office. During that meeting, Amos noted the funding grant from the Ministry of Education, announced in mid-March, will be roughly $644,000 less that last year’s grant, but that reduction will be partially offset by increases in other revenues and cost savings.

“All this is to basically say that we’re in good stead for this year,” Amos said.

The total 2016-17 budget, which is scheduled for three readings at tonight’s meeting, is for $49,157,553, a slight dip from the current year’s budget of $49,217,765.

The total includes a draw of $338,121 from the district’s operating reserves, which currently holds approximately $1.2 million.

Responding to questions about the reserve fund from Trustee Julie Austin and a member of the public, Amos said the reserve funding will be used only if needed, and that a similar draw-down in the current year’s budget could be partially or entirely returned to reserves if not needed when the final amended budget is completed in February 2017.

“If we don’t need all this year’s money, it will go back into operating reserve,” Amos said. “If we have further bad news from the government, if more things are downloaded on us, we’ll need additional funds. It’s absolutely tapping into a reserve that we may or may not need; but it certainly prevents us from going down the road of further cuts this year.”

Last year, the board approved a draw of $361,000 from the operating reserve for the current year’s budget.

The good news comes in bits and pieces throughout the budget, including an uptick in expected enrolment for the second straight year after several years of steady declines.

School District 69 is one of many districts throughout B.C. under funding protection, which preserves ministry funding at a minimum of 98.5 per cent of the previous year’s funding so enrolment drops do not result in catastrophic cuts in the per-pupil funding grant. School District 69’s current upward trend in enrolment could see it released from funding protection in the near future.

“Our increased enrolment is generating more funds that we’re now entitled to, as opposed to it being given to us because of the funding protection,” Amos said.

Next year’s budget will also reflect increases from tuition through the overseas student program, which in March had already exceeded its entire 2015-16 budgeted amount. Likewise, bus pass revenue, through increased ridership, and a boost in revenue from the district’s rental properties will reflect increases next year.

Some costs have also been offset.

Increases in workers’ compensation and MSP rates for teachers and staff are more than offset by a pension premium reduction, netting the district about $200,000 in savings. Boiler replacement projects and other infrastructure work at the district’s facilities have also netted a savings in utility costs, despite another BC Hydro rate increase.

“There’s a savings adjustment to be had, on account of some of the work our trades people have been doing,” Amos said. “We’ve got more efficient boilers in some of the schools, and some of the work they do in lighting and electrical upgrades have created efficiencies.”

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