School district considers cost-saving ideas

Parents, trustees and staff met at a public meeting Monday to learn more about the budget process

So far, money-saving ideas have ranged from cutting out bus service to charging more for facility rental, and the Vernon School District is listening to all of them.

Parents, trustees and staff met at a public meeting Monday to learn more about the budget process and to brainstorm ideas for making cuts.

“Trustees are in a difficult position as we are required by law to come in on budget and we’ve had $20 million in cuts since 1999 so we want any ideas you may have that will have the least impact on kids,” said district superintendent Joe Rogers.

“There is some positive news, as the cuts are not as deep as we thought.

“But we want to look at where we can make cuts. What is untouchable? Where do we find these savings? So we are looking for all kinds of ideas.”

While the district is looking at a proposed $1.2 million in extra costs to the 2014/15 budget, certain costs need to be maintained: $439,391 annually for the CUPE labour settlement; $25,398 for higher Worksafe B.C. rates and $92,857 because a slight hike in enrolment may lead to a loss of provincial funding protection for the district (allocated by the ministry to alleviate the effects of declining enrolment).

“We need to meet our collective agreement with CUPE, so we can’t suddenly say let’s cut everyone’s salary by 10 per cent,” said Rogers. “But we want to keep the pain away from the classrooms.”

Ministry of Education funding amounts to $6,900 per student, but declining enrolment every year has meant less funding to the district every year.

This year, 713 Grade 12 students will leave the district, compared to just 591 starting kindergarten.

Assistant secretary-treasurer Bernie Weiss explained the budget process and answered questions in an effort to give those in attendance as much information as possible.

“This fall we got a holdback allocation,” he said.

“The ministry has a number that they dole out initially and if enrolment numbers are lower than expected, they will take it and divvy it up, so we received $60 per kid, which took us out of funding protection.”

Enrolment counts are undertaken for summer, September, February and May. Before the start of every school year, the ministry holds back a portion of the overall funding in case student enrolment is higher than forecast.

These holdback funds are then released to school districts as enrolment is counted during the year. Holdback funding is based on actual September enrolment numbers.

For the current school year, full-time equivalent (FTE) enrolment sits at 7,665 students. It is projected to be 7,721 for the 2014/15 school year.

“We can make several assumptions at this point and that is that government funding for special program enrolment will stay the same and average teacher salaries will remain the same,” said Weiss.

“We have never banked on holdback as we never really know if this funding will come through every year so there is some dependence on residual funds left after allocations at the Ministry of Education.”

Following Weiss’ presentation, round-table discussions took place, with many agreeing that there should be no cuts to student support services, to ensure students with special needs are getting the help they require.

Other ideas included cutting bus service or making it a user-pay system, taking a look at water usage on school grounds and ensuring arts programs are not cut.

On Tuesday, trustees and staff met with other district partner groups to hear their ideas.

All of the information will be collated and posted to the district website, with a presentation to be made at the board Feb. 26.

“And if anyone has any input, feel free to e-mail me,” said Lewis Hill, secretary-treasurer, who can be reached at