Setting budget priorities

An increase in the base amount being received from the Ministry of Education, a number of cost pressures being funded, and a small projection for increased enrolment means School District No. 83 is “in the black” as it plans for the 2019-20 school year.

At the public budget presentation on Wednesday at the District Education Centre (DESC), Secretary-Treasurer Alanna Cameron went through the budget process explaining that, after receiving the Ministry of Education’s operating grant of $67,585 million in mid-March and working through known funded and unfunded cost pressures as well as recognized cost savings, she is estimating the district has $1.16 million to put into budget priorities.

The complete 2019-2020 Preliminary Annual Budget Presentation is available here

She noted the budget is based on enrolment increasing by only 15 students this coming school year, which is smaller than in the previous two years. Superintendent Peter Jory added that the school district is graduating a large cohort of grade 12s which somewhat offsets the numbers coming in. “Our projection tools are more accurate than in the past. This is a bit of a pause in our enrolment increase but we expect after this, the trend from the last couple of years will continue.”

A budget development committee (which includes trustee and chair of the committee Amanda Krebs, the senior leadership team, the Director of Finance, Director of Operations, two reps each from the principals’ association, teachers’ association, CUPE, District Parent Advisory Committee and First Nations Education Council) has been meeting regularly since the beginning of March discussing implications, hearing presentations from departments, considering feedback and making recommendations to the Board on budget priorities.

At Wednesday’s public meeting the priorities determined by the committee were sorted to align with the three goals of the strategic plan, although Cameron noted several fit under more than one goal.

Under the “students first” priority there were increases to inclusive education teacher staffing, counsellor, numeracy teacher, district principal numeracy, literacy intervention, educational technology teacher, and funds to release teachers for numeracy, education technology teacher, and Insight Data Tracking software, which amounted to $429,000.

Assistant Superintendent Carl Cooper explained the software allows the district to track every single student, so that as a student moves from grade to grade the receiving teacher will be provided with assessment information, which will allow the teacher to better adapt lessons to students’ strengths and weaknesses. “It will be very valuable.”

Under health and wellness priorities, the committee had three, including reinstating the position of manager of facilities and grounds, funds for a driver awareness/bus safety campaign, and funds for DPAC (to help support DPAC and to offset costs for those who volunteer), which amounted to $131,000.

Jory explained over the years of declining enrolment, and to keep funds in the classroom, the Operations department took many cuts, including going from six managers to three. “Our facilities are worth $123 million. We have a responsibility to protect our assets and keep them safe for students.”

Jory also noted over the last five years funding for most parts of the system (including teachers, principals/vice-principals, education assistants, student support and replacement costs) has increased between 19 per cent and 37 per cent. “For managers it is -6 per cent. My point is yes, we are adding management and it hurts, but we’ve put this off even though it has been needed for a long time. We are running some of our staff ragged.”

Under the third goal, organizational efficiency, priorities included a district vice-principal, energy manager (which a study determined would be a cost neutral position), new teacher/admin induction program (recruitment and retention initiative), and a summer grounds casual labour. Also included in this were five capital items including a computer refresh (as part of a four year district-wide plan), and funds to refresh shop tools, custodial equipment, the “white” fleet (district vehicles) and conduct a shop audit. The total proposed budget is $605,000.

Cameron explained that rather than moving current year operating funds into local capital and then doing a separate process to determine spending, which has been done in the past, she is proposing to leave all of the operating funds in the operating budget and showing how it will be spent there. “This ensures full transparency as all operating funds are accounted for in the operating budget.”

Along with the budget committee there were approximately a dozen parents and the public attending the meeting. Concerns were expressed about increasing support for students with special needs, the lack of elementary counsellor time, how SD83 can help support students waiting for a diagnosis (which sometimes takes years) and the proposed spending on such things as a grounds manager, bus safety awareness, and an energy manager.

Director of Instruction (Inclusive Education) Carol-Ann Leidloff talked about the program saying although it could always use more funding, SD83 is projected to receive $8.2 million to support students with special needs and is planning on spending just over $13.3 million. Jory noted proportionately the district is in the top quarter of school districts in the province in its funding to support students with special needs.

Trustee Marty Gibbons noted that he was extremely disappointed that the budget line item for automatic defibrillators that was proposed by district staff to the budget committee was not supported and was not included in this preliminary budget presentation, especially considering the Board made a motion requesting that a program be implemented over three years.

Cameron commented at the end of the three hour meeting that the very draft preliminary budget still needs refining before going to the Board at its meeting on May 21. “As of yet there is no contingency fund.  I’m going to look closely at all areas of the budget to see where each department can make small reductions to achieve this.”  This year SD83 has a .5 per cent contingency fund and by Board Policy it should be up to one per cent, she explained.

The District Budget Committee will meet again on May 7th to consider the draft budget, and make any changes from feedback heard at the public meeting, before it goes to the Board on May 21.