For the first time ever, Chilliwack School District 33 is projecting expenditures to top $200 million. (Black Press file)

For the first time ever, Chilliwack School District 33 is projecting expenditures to top $200 million. (Black Press file)

Chilliwack School District hits spending milestone in 2023 budget

For the first time ever, SD33 is anticipating expenditures to top $200 million

For the first time ever, the Chilliwack School District is anticipating to spend more than $200 million in one year. SD33 is projecting expenses to come in at a little north of $202 million. That’s almost $17 million more than 2022.

The 2023 amended budget was presented to the school board and the first of three readings passed at a meeting on Jan. 17.

“It’s hard to believe we’ve hit that milestone, but here we are,” said Mark Friesen, SD33 assistant secretary-treasurer, in his presentation to the school board.

Operating expenses account for $164 million, which includes salaries for teachers, principals and support staff. Between wages and benefits, SD33 is spending nearly $147 million on those groups.

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SD33 received just $5.1 million from the province to fund wage/benefit boosts through collective bargaining agreements. The actual cost of those increases is $5.7 million, leaving SD33 on the hook for $600,000.

“The reason for that is that the province looks at the average teacher cost district by district, and if your average teacher cost looks less than the provincial average, they deem that you don’t need as much of the base funding,” Friesen explained.

He said it varies from year to year and sometimes SD33 comes out on the ‘winning’ side of that equation.

The breakdown of salaries includes $70 million for teachers, $9 million for principals and vice principals, $14.5 million for educational assistants, $15 million for support staff, $6.5 million for substitutes and $3.6 million for other professionals.

The rest of the operating expenses budget, $17 million and change, includes things like student transportation, rentals and leases, insurance, supplies and utilities. In the big picture $100,000 isn’t a big deal, but that’s how much more SD33 is spending on fuel for its buses in 2023. During the Q&A portion of the budget presentation, trustee Carin Bondar asked if SD33 is looking into the feasibility of electric buses.

Friesen answered that they’re working on getting infrastructure in place for an eventual switch to electric vehicles, but that’s still a ways away.

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“Right now, the cost of an electrical bus is more than diesel,” he told Bondar. “There will be a time when the fleet does change, but we have to have the services and infrastructure in place.”

As expenses rise, SD33’s revenues are almost keeping pace. For example, enrollment in SD33 is dropping by 82 FTE (full-time equivalent) students, but at the same time, special needs enrollment is increasing by 70 FTE. SD33 actually comes out ahead, with increased money for special needs more than balancing out the loss of funding from decreased enrollment.

But overall, the 2023 budget comes in with a deficit of $560,000. That’s being balanced by dipping into reserves. Friesen noted that SD33 currently has $3 million in the bank. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but SD33 is supposed to have 3.5 per cent of its budget set aside, which would be in the $7 million range.

Board chair Willow Reichelt asked Friesen if the deficit is structural and likely to be repeated year after year.

“Obviously this isn’t sustainable,” he replied. “I don’t think it’s dire, but definitely we’ll be looking at tightening up our processes.”

Second and third readings of the 2023 budget will be done at the next meeting, schedule for Feb. 7, and the budget must be submitted to the provincial government by the end of February.


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