The North Okanagan-Shuswap School District’s budget advisory committee is looking at a menu of possible cuts for the upcoming year.
The current suggestions, however, are still short of a balanced budget.
Following the release of funding numbers by the Ministry of Education, this school district must cut $1.1 million from its operating budget for this year in order to balance the budget.
The initial list put together for deliberation by the budget advisory committee leaves little room for trustees to pick and choose which programs would be cut, unless the committee adds more items to the list.
As the budget process is in the early stages, none of the suggested cuts would be approved until trustees vote on the final budget in May.
Adding another layer to the debate is the school district’s practice of transferring its previous year’s operational surplus into the capital fund. This sparked controversy over the past week when it was revealed that the school district transferred $10.5 million in operational surplus to capital over the last five years to pay for buildings, furniture, computers and renovations.
There is $1 million on the books to be transferred from the current year’s budget, all of which has been earmarked for renovations to Carlin Elementary/Middle School. The committee had some preliminary discussion on the possibility of using some of those surplus funds for the coming year’s operational budget, however, this was not explored in depth at that meeting.
“It’s not pretty this year,” Nicole Bittante, the school district’s secretary-treasurer, told the budget committee members. “You will be seeing things on the list you won’t like.”
Among the proposed cuts is a complete reconfiguration of the school district’s library system which would see all teacher-librarians cut and replaced with library clerks, whose role would simply be to handle book check-out and shelving of materials. The proposed savings of switching to this type of system is $758,000, as the cost of employing a library tech position would be significantly less than for teacher-librarians.
However, North Okanagan-Shuswap Teachers Association president Brenda O’Dell warned the committee about this course of action, saying there would likely be a union grievance filed if such an action was taken.
Another proposed cut would be to the school district’s $350,000 distributed learning program, which allows students to upgrade courses or take independent course work with access to help from a teacher.
A $350,000 reduction in students’ services, including cutbacks to learning resource teachers and certified education assistants for students with special learning needs, is also suggested, as is a restructuring of the school district’s alternate education program.
The school district’s gifted education program, which was reduced last year, is now completely on the chopping block for an $80,000 saving.
The literacy intervention program is also facing $240,000 in cuts, which would reduce the teacher time for that program, by roughly two full-time teaching positions, but would not see it completely eliminated. The career programs would be in a similar situation, with a proposed $100,000 reduction, but not a total loss of the service.
Cuts were also proposed that would eliminate a $100,000 maintenance planner position, a $200,000 reduction in management supply budgets and a $25,000 reduction in professional development for senior staff. Another $500,000 in savings could be realized due to $200,000 in enrolment decline reductions in teacher wages and a one-time-only benefit premium holiday.
“We see these numbers on a page, but these numbers represent children’s lives, parents’ lives and employees’ lives. We are reaching into the classroom deeper each year,” commented Barry Chafe, trustee and committee chair.
Administration asked the committee members whether they had additional ideas about places to cut, but suggestions were in short supply.
The budget committee will host a public budget session April 21 at 7 p.m. in the District Education Support Centre in Salmon Arm.