Chilliwack school district to boost spending in 2012-13

The district will draw down its surplus by $1.7 million to add staff, support vulnerable students and embark on a technical upgrade

The Chilliwack school district will draw down its surplus by $1.7 million to add staff, support vulnerable students and embark on an ambitious technical upgrade of all schools, trustees heard Tuesday evening.

The district plans to spend just over $112 million in the 2012-13 school year, said secretary-treasurer Maureen Carradice – $2.2 million more than it expects to in 2011-12.

Some of that difference will be made up through a projected enrollment increase of 42 students. However, $1.7 million will come from the district’s accumulated surplus, leaving it with $4.3 million by the end of next year.

Additional one-time funding will also come through the province’s “learning improvement fund.” (That money – $1.4 million intended to address issues around class size and composition – has yet to be allocated because of ongoing discussions between district administrators, the Chilliwack Teachers’ Association and CUPE.)

In all, the district plans $3.2 million in “budget enhancements” during the next school year. The biggest single expenditure will be the $1 million upgrade to the district’s computer and information system. The upgrade will enhance network capabilities in all classrooms, and replace aging and obsolete equipment, trustees were told. That will enable teachers to use technology more efficiently in the delivery of educational programs, said assistant superintendent Rohan Arul-Pragasam.

The district will also spend another $600,000 on staffing, either through the hiring of new personnel or the reallocation of existing staff. Vice-principal positions will be added to Cultus Lake and Cheam elementary schools, while the vice-principal position at Little Mountain will be changed to principal.

The district’s complement of education assistants, meanwhile, will be bumped up to 198 full-time equivalents – an increase of nearly 19 FTEs.

Overall, the district will spend $97.5 million on salaries and benefits in 2012-13 – roughly 87 per cent of its budget.

District staff is also recommending the purchase of two work trucks, and an upgrade of the athletic field at Sardis secondary. This winter’s severe weather highlighted deficiencies within the maintenance fleet, Carradice said, and the Sardis field is in desperate need of repair.

Those two items drew the most discussion, with trustees Silvia Dyck questioning the use of operating funds for capital purchases, and trustee Heather Maahs wondering if contracting out the maintenance work would be more efficient than buying new trucks.

Trustees Doug McKay and Walt Krahn, meanwhile, wondered if the school district could partner with the City of Chilliwack to help pay for the Sardis field upgrade.

Overall, however, the proposed budget won the support of the majority of trustees. Said trustee Krahn: “I’m just thrilled with what’s been presented here.”

Nonetheless, because the budget failed to secure the necessary unanimous support for all three readings at Tuesday’s meeting, it will be brought back for the third and final reading at the next board meeting May 22.

Trustees Dyck and Maahs voted against the budget, with Maahs complaining of a lack of public discussion.

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