SD 10 Arrow Lakes, April 19: Trustees approve ‘constrained’ budget for 2022-23

·5 min read

Trustees passed the school district’s 2022-23 budget, one that had to try to find a balance between tightening provincial revenues and rising operational costs.

“It’s very much a status-quo budget,” says new Secretary-Treasurer Michael McLellan. “This year the funding has been consistent with last year’s funding – it has not increased like in most years.”

McLellan says they’ve heard the Province is trying to rein in spending after the outlays made for the COVID response.

“Our per-pupil funding last year to this year is identical – it has not increased,” he says. “At the same time, our expenses have gone up. There’s inflation, which is going to hit our services and supply spending, and under our employee contracts, there’s a slight increase in our salary and benefits costs.

“So it’s a tight budget, and we’re wanting to maintain the same educational services as possible given the constraints.”

The budget calls for $11.424 million in spending this year. The biggest line item is salaries and benefits, at $8.044 million, actually down a bit from $8.050 last year.

The budget also assumes a 43-child drop in enrollment numbers, expecting 489 full-time equivalent students, down from 532. McLellan says that’s from an expected drop in distance-learning students next year.

“During COVID the district picked up a lot of out-of-district students with its online learning programs,” says McLellan. “But with COVID now hopefully impacting us less, we expect less enrollment in online learning.”

Overall, the district will run a small deficit of about $174,000 next year. He notes other districts have really struggled with deep deficits as they try to cope with dropping provincial revenues. Kelowna is dealing with a $3 million deficit, while Surrey’s shortfall is topping $25 million.

“The theme of the budget this year is, it’s a constrained budget, with funding not increasing while all of our expenses do,” he says. “We’re grateful because our revenues are almost identical as they are this year.”

That’s because they’ll be getting a few extra pots of money from the Province – one to compensate for that decline in enrollment for online learning, and a special grant it gets for delivering education in a remote part of the province where travel can be difficult.

“We’ll be getting ‘unique geographic funding,’ which is quite favourable for us,” he says. “It softens the blow of the decreasing per-pupil funding.”

The end result was a budget that protected educational services. It was promptly passed by trustees, who had been heavily involved in a consultation process for the last few months. Parents/caregivers, partner groups, students, and community members were given the chance to provide feedback through workshops and a survey.

The district’s capital spending plans will be passed later this year, after staff hear from the Province what its capital funding grants will be.

It’s not known what direct impact the school district budget will have on local residents’ tax bills this year. The budget now goes to the Province, which funds the school district and sets an education tax levy through residents’ municipal tax bills, which come out later this spring.

Seamless Day gets underway

Development of a ‘Seamless Day’ program in Burton is proceeding well, reported Superintendent Peter Dubinksy – though the after school-portion has yet to have any participants.

The program seeks to integrate before and after-school childcare in the community with educational programming, creating a ‘seamless day’ for children.

Dubinksy says the program started in February, and just before spring break, the district learned the school would receive a license to operate the after-school care program.

“We want to extend a big thank you to Early Childhood Educator, Christy Konschuh, who put together an amazing cost-free offering to Burton families over spring break as a kick-off to the after-school program,” Dubinsky reported to the board. “[It] gave students an opportunity to experience some of the amazing programming opportunities of what the after-school care program could offer.”

Among the programming offered was a trip to the fire department, talking to a reporter about newspapers, and a visit from a helicopter.

Despite the interest by students over the holidays, the project officially opened on April 11 without any students signed up.

“We’re exploring why. I think like anything it’s new,” Dubinsky told the board. “We’re halfway, three-quarters of the way through the school year and people are set in a routine, and already have things structured.”

Dubinsky expects things will get busier for the program in the fall, and the district will continue to promote the program, which is funded for the next three years.

Remuneration policy okayed

SD 10 school trustees have ratified a new pay schedule for themselves. The new honorarium for the trustees, starting in December, will be $14,444 for the chair, $12,790 for the vice-chair, and $11,688 for regular trustees.

They’ll also have an annual increase, set to the cost-of-living index, a practice that is common among school districts in the province.

“The point of the motion is not to get more money,” said Trustee Steve Gascon. “The whole point of the motion is to put in a mechanism so that trustees don’t need to continually vote themselves a raise, or make an arbitrary decision… there’s an objective mechanism in place.”

In that spirit, Gascon said, he moved the recommendation be changed so that the increase would kick in after this October’s school board elections. The motion passed.

Even with the increase, SD 10’s board members make far less than the provincial average in BC. The average district chair gets about $20,600 and a trustee about $17,900.

It’s also the first increase to trustee pay in four years in SD 10.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

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