School district learning to do with less (again)

Chilliwack school district looking to absorb $1.3 million budget shortfall

It’s going to be another lean year for the Chilliwack School District, as the second year of an administration savings cut imposed by the government rolls out across the province.

This year’s portion of that plan was released last week, in the Provincial Operating Grants Manual.

Between this school year and next, Chilliwack will have received a budget shortfall of $1,284,249.

“Overall, very disappointing,” said Gerry Slykhuis, secretary treasurer for SD33.

But because of planning made in last year’s budget, he said the district is in good shape to deal with the smaller grant amount.

“At this point, we’re not looking at big cuts this year,” he said. He is looking at ways to absorb the loss of revenue leading up to the next budget committee on April 27, where he’ll present the preliminary budget. Board trustees will have their first look at that budget on May 3.

While he still has some work ahead of him, Slykhuis doesn’t foresee the school district dipping into reserves to offset the lowered revenue.

He will be looking into other contingencies, he said, and won’t be in-classroom cuts. For example, last year’s addition of bussing fees helped balance out the loss of funding at the administration level.

Slykhuis has been a secretary treasurer since 2004, first up north and then here in Chilliwack. He said the cutbacks seem to be getting worse as time goes on.

“It’s just one surprise after another,” he said.

One of those surprises was a mandatory upgrade to a computer network system. The government implemented the Next Generation Network project last year, to improve internet infrastructures and replace the PLNet with faster digital communication services. Chilliwack’s share of that project this year was $315,000, and next year will be $563,000.

That was revealed at a public budget presentation earlier in March. The numbers at that point were contingent on last week’s announcement.

At first glance, the grant document looks like an increase, as the FTE for each student rose $8 to $7,166. It would have taken a $64 increase to cover the collective agreement increases, Slykhuis said.

There was no increase for any other classification of student, such as distributed learning, aboriginal, special needs, non-graduated adults, and newcomer refugees.

Slykhuis said some school districts are choosing to use their reserves to pay their deficits in an effort to balance budgets, and now some of those reserves are depleted.

Chilliwack took $600,000 out of reserves last year to pay out and extra $50 per student to each school, because they had a “slightly larger surplus.” But they won’t need to do that this year, Slykhuis said.

“We’re not using our reserves to pay ongoing costs,” he said, noting it’s not a good long term plan.

He added that it would be up to school board trustees whether to take up the matter of underfunding with the province.