School trustees ask for more time

Board of education has to find a way to make up for a half-million budget deficit

The big challenge of stretching their funding dollars has the Board of Education of School District 69 (Qualicum) asking for more time before approving next year’s budget.

At a budget information session April 18, the board was presented with three options to make up for a $546,175 budget shortfall.

But before choosing any option, trustees wanted more information on issues that effect the overall budget and are still up in the air.

District administrators have been working on developing the 2012/13 operating budget, which is around 44 million dollars, not enough to meet all the district’s costs.

Although three different cost saving scenarios were presented, none of them were accepted and the trustees, many of them new to the board, would not commit to any of the options until some loose ends are tied up.

Secretary-Treasurer Bernice Hannam wanted trustees to stick to the district’s timelines and asked for direction from the board, but with too many unknowns, the board postponed making any budget decisions.

A regular board meeting is scheduled for tonight (April 24) where Hannam will be looking for direction because the district needs to start planning for the next school year.

She said the budget process, which started in February, has been challenging and the public has expressed its priorities and there isn’t a lot of  time left to wrap up the process.

One of the cost saving measures includes reducing days of instruction on the local calendar, similar to what the district did to save money in 2011/2012.

Taking five days off the calendar would save $100,000.

Other options include reducing teachers and/or administration, cutting some custodial supplies and equipment, and eliminating extra-curricular transportation.

Board chair Lynette Kershaw said she thinks they will be able to make a decision Tuesday.

“I don’t think the budget is insurmountable,” she said. “We are changing a few minor things. The local calendar is the time factor.”

Under Bill 22, the government took the authority away from management and the school board to change the calendar and in order for the district to cut instructional days, they must come to an agreement with the Mount Arrowsmith Teachers Association (MATA).

“Regardless of whether we go back to one week, it has to be negotiated with MATA and time frames are involved,” said Kershaw.

She said she hopes the board can get a better indication of what they have to overcome to get an agreement with MATA and they are looking for some direction from staff.

Another question trustees need answered has to do with the new Family Place in Parksville. School District 69 donated the land for the centre but questions still remain about who will be paying for the upkeep of the building.

Kershaw said she doesn’t feel that the school district should lose money on the venture.

“We should at least break even or even make money off of it,” she stated.

Kershaw said the board needs to be clear about Family Place before they pass the budget.

“I want it to be clear that it is a great idea for supporting kids zero to six.  It’s a one stop shop for families who need support with services all in one place.  Theoretically its a great idea, but our duty as a board is to the students and schools and we have to look at it and make sure we think it through.”