Fewer students leaves district with fewer dollars

Vernon School District budget faces $1 million shortfall due to enrolment decline

With a legal requirement to balance the budget comes the need for the Vernon School District to make tough decisions.

At a special budget meeting Tuesday, trustees approved a preliminary budget for the 2012/13 school year.

The budget reflects the decline in enrolment of approximately 124 fewer students than were enrolled in September 2011, resulting in a shortfall of $1,061,000 which includes $898,788 from the Learning Improvement Fund.

But to present a balanced budget as required by the Ministry of Education, the board of trustees must make cuts that will not be popular.

“The decisions to balance the budget this year have been as difficult as in previous years,” said board chairman Bill Turanski. “With less money available, decisions will need to be made about how the district provides and delivers education in the future. This will mean re-prioritization of services in the budget.”

The largest decline in enrolment is at the secondary level, and Turanski said trustees are looking forward to the work currently under way to determine restructuring of secondary schools to personalize learning and to meet the goals of the district’s achievement contract.

Trustee Mitzi Fortin said she and her colleagues are presenting a budget where their primary focus is on the education system.

“But with 89 per cent of our budget going to wages, it leaves us with only 11 per cent to work with,” she said.

Secretary-treasurer Randy Hoffman said the budget is prepared on the basis of the best projections and forecasts with the most current information available.

“This budget is referred to as the preliminary budget which is reviewed and monitored throughout the year,” he said. “A final budget is approved in February by trustees as a requirement of the ministry.

“Based on projections and the strategic solutions proposed, the funding reduction as a result of the loss of students, is manageable without structural or program change, in essence maintaining status quo for the upcoming school year.”

Vernon Teachers’ Association president Bruce Cummings said the district has allocated $600,000 less for special education in next year’s budget.

“And yet the needs haven’t decreased,” he said. “The province uses a per-student funding formula, yet the needs of students vary from one district to the next; there is so much that is not measurable so it doesn’t work using a formula.”

To achieve a balanced budget, trustees have considered a number of solutions to reduce expenditures and have approved the following reductions in spending: a reduction of six full-time teachers in secondary, although this potential reduction may be offset somewhat by projected increases of international students; reductions in budgets for utilities, telecommunications and legal costs based on the previous year’s experiences totaling $256,000; reduction in school supply allocations by $100,000; any cost increases for employee benefits and utility rate increases will be borne within existing budgets.

“Fortunately the proposed increase for these costs is minimal and easily managed within existing budgets.”

Turanski said support for the delivery of aboriginal, numeracy and literacy programs were not affected by the proposed reductions for next year. The overall student to teacher ratio will be 17.8 to one for next year, a significant improvement since 2004/05 when it was 19.3

Turanski said trustees recognize and acknowledge the work of all people involved in the budgeting process this year.

“Superintendent Bev Rundell and I both hope the future will bring an end to these never-ending reductions in spending to match dwindling revenues to the district,” he said. “The work of the school district remains focused on improving student learning and I have confidence that all of our employees will continue to do excellent work on behalf of our students.”