Vernon schools face $2.2 million shortfall

The Ministry of Education, the Vernon School District is required by law to present a balanced budget each year.

The Ministry of Education, the Vernon School District is required by law to present a balanced budget each year.

And each year, that is exactly what happens. The problem is that as enrolment dips, funding drops, which means cuts to both staff and programs.

This year is no exception and at Tuesday’s district board meeting, secretary-treasurer Randy Hoffman presented a bylaw for trustees to approve the balanced budget, which will leave the district with a projected shortfall of $2.2 million.

“Enrolment drives our funding and we must send our enrolment projections to the ministry by Feb. 15,” said Hoffman.

District superintendent Bev Rundell said the 2013/14 school year is projected to be down about 176 students across the system.

“That is projected to decline for the next few years and when we look at available spaces in the secondary schools, we’ll have 879 available spaces,” she said. “We’re very concerned about enrolment, but especially at the secondary level. At Fulton, we’re looking at 701 students in a school built for 950 students. Kal has 552 and it was built for 800; VSS was built for 950 and it will be at 877; Seaton was built for 900 and it is at 701.”

Elementary schools will also be faced with a surplus of spaces, and the district is moving towards a place where the number of high school graduates is equal to the number of kindergarten kids coming in.

“We have approximately 550 kindergarten students coming in, with about 750 Grade 12 students leaving,” said Rundell. “It impacts funding but it also impacts the choices at secondary schools, making a difference in the number of courses offered. It doesn’t paint a bright picture of ever returning to 10,000 students in our district.”

While there will be a decrease in funding from the ministry, the district is currently in funding protection and “buffered” from the loss of students for this school year only.

The recently announced provincial budget will result in many school boards across the province having to make difficult decisions, said Hoffman.

“After reviewing the budget, the BCSTA said school boards will not be funded for cost pressures,” he said.

Cost pressures include rising costs such as MSP, pension and utility rate increases.

“So we will see costs that we’ll have to fund within our existing budget in order to have a balanced budget.”

Inclusion of the previous year’s appropriated surplus of $6,214,450 is brought forward and presumed to be spent and committed in this fiscal year, primarily in the supplies and services category.

“So we’re looking at no growth and no additional funding for the coming year,” said Hoffman. “We made the decision to short-spend $592,492 but now we have to replace it. We can’t depend on short-spending this amount perpetually. To find that for the 2013/14 year means budget reduction. Hoping to have money left over to fund subsequent years is not effective.

“This is not an unfamiliar tune to us, as all but one year we have had to cut back. I think we have to begin to plan how we recover $2.2 million. We are in a collective bargaining environment, and we don’t know how this is going to play out. Special needs enrolment is also increasing, so we incur more costs but we’re not going to get any more money.

“We always think that at some point the ministry will say, ‘we have some good ideas for you.’ Once again we are going to have to reduce our budget to balance it, and I know it won’t be the most pleasant of tasks but we are all veterans at it.”

VTA president Kevin Bader said it’s widely recognized that B.C.’s education budget is chronically underfunded.

“All of our strategies don’t seem to be working. Targeted funding for new initiatives do not mean additional funding but trustees need to make room for these initiatives,” he said. “The upcoming election seems to me the only small light on the horizon.

“I’m appealing to the board to have a voice. When campaigning for election, five of you said you would support the idea of a needs-based budget, so will trustees fulfill their election promise by submitting a second budget, a needs budget?”