Windfall won’t change Qualicum School District’s budget

Announcement from provincial government was a surprise to most school districts

School District 69 officials welcome the return of more than $197,000 to its budget from the Ministry of Education, but the windfall will not cause any short-term changes to the district’s recently approved 2016-17 budget, SD69 secretary-treasurer Ron Amos said.

The Ministry of Education this week surprised school districts across B.C. with the return of $25 million previously clawed from administrative budgets. It is not new money, but a redistribution of funds the ministry mandated be cut over a three-year period from 2015-2018.

“What they had expected in the past was, ‘You make the savings, we take the money,'” said Amos. “Now it’s, ‘You make the savings and redistribute the money.'”

The local school district’s share for the 2016-17 school year is $197,263.

Amos said the funds will not come into play until September, when student enrolment numbers determine the amount of the district’s operating grant from the ministry.

“We’re still planning on spending what we’re spending, but come September, sometimes budget pressures happen, and you relieve those pressures through adjusting staffing or class makeup,” Amos said. “This will alleviate some of that pressure. And we may not have to tap into our surplus to the extent we did.”

The school district’s board of trustees approved a 2016-17 budget of $49,157,553 on April 26. It included a draw of $338,121 from the district’s budgeted prior year surplus.

Education Minister Mike Bernier said districts can use the funding any way they see fit — for hiring new teachers, for programs, or for maintaining schools despite falling enrolment in certain regions.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that maximum education dollars go into services for students,” Bernier said. “Districts worked hard to reduce their administrative costs and we are pleased to be able to direct that $25 million back to programs and initiatives that will directly benefit the kids of B.C.”

B.C. Teachers Federation president Jim Iker credited the Ministry’s reversal on pressure brought by teachers, students, parents and school trustees who have spoken out in opposition to the cuts.

“While we are appreciative that the government is making this move, it should never have happened in the first place,” Iker said in a written release. “It’s incumbent upon teachers, parent groups, and school trustees to keep reaching out to government MLAs to ensure they understand the depth of the crisis, and commit to taking more action.”

NDP leader John Horgan, meanwhile, lambasted the move as having less to do with helping B.C.s children and more to do with the provincial election looming in spring of 2017.

“This is the least that Christy Clark could do. The least,” Horgan said in response to the ministry’s funding announcement.

“This is not new funding and I think that parents and students will see through this cynical election ploy.”

The ministry announcement does not return any of the cuts made by districts last year, nor does it make any promises regarding the 2017-18 school year, when another round of cuts are scheduled.

“What we’re hearing is that it’s a one-time savings, with the hope that if the budget outlook is good they will not require the (budget cuts) in the third year,” said Amos.

He added that the ministry’s announcement this week came without warning, even as some of the province’s districts are still finalizing their budgets.

“In some districts, they’re now talking about, ‘can we save a school?” Amos said.

“It’s good news in the sense that we don’t have a problem getting the funds. But in some districts, it’s probably too late to help with issues they’re facing.”

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