The public’s first glance at next school year’s budget for Chilliwack was presented to the board on Tuesday night.
The meeting was held via the Zoom app, with trustees and senior staff joining in from home. The meeting was posted to the Chilliwack School District’s YouTube page on Wednesday morning, and while it was not feasible to include a question period during the meeting, they are hoping the public will send in questions that can be answered.
The reason for the meeting being held this way was to practise safe social distancing, not just between the board and the public but amongst themselves as well. The meetings will be held this way as long as health officials are advising social distancing.
COVID-19 came up in discussions repeatedly in the budget presentation, mostly because the cost endured by school districts right now will need to be factored in, as well changes throughout the summer and even potentially into the fall. School board budgets are very fluid, constantly being adapted as enrolments change, government funding changes, snow days pile up, and multiple other factors.
They are all referred to as budget risks, and the pandemic plays largely into this right now.
“This pandemic will probably have an effect on our budget and we will have to make changes at that time,” said Mark Friesen, assistant secretary treasurer for Chilliwack School District. While the pandemic is completely disrupting this school year, he noted that they had completed the bulk of the budget work just prior to that. He said the Ministry of Education has not moved deadlines for the budget process, but that because they had done so much advance work “it won’t be difficult to meet these deadlines.”
Along with Gerry Slykhuis, secretary treasurer, they laid out some basics on budgeting, including highlighting their priorities of special needs, teacher allocations, school supply and service allocations, school administrator entitlements, and custodial operations.
The presentation shows the dramatic rise in enrolment that started in 2015, and the stark drop in enrolment for distance education and continuing education. Both have put financial pressure on the district that are being addressed through additional spaces and eventually, new schools in Chilliwack.
Notably, the teachers’ union contract has not yet been ratified, which adds another question mark to the budget.
Those watching the Zoom meeting on YouTube will notice a vertical strip of inset images of people on the call covers many of the figures for the 2020/2021 year. But there are other chances to see the budget, including on the Chilliwack School District website, and in this story below. They underlined the fact that the board wants to hear from the public and that questions can be sent to Donna Vogel, at email@example.com.
The budget work will continue by the district’s finance team, and will come back to the board in May and June for three readings, with a deadline to submit to the Ministry of Education by June 30.