School district looks to tighten belt 

Finance committee balancing a shortfall up to $1.2 million

Although the province committed to fully funding education in its recent austerity budget, some deep cuts have left the Sea to Sky School District with a $1.2 million shortfall heading into the school year. Up to $300,000 of that money is for various programs and could be partially or wholly recovered, but the other $900,000 will have to be met through cancelled projects and other cuts.

"Almost $900,000 of this funding is from our annual facilities grant, which doesn't deal with regular maintenance of facilities but with things like re-roofing, and repainting, and we just completed some lighting upgrades," explained Nancy Edwards, Secretary-Treasurer for the school district.

"Some projects have had to have been put on hold, any future contracts But school districts do a lot of this kind of work during the summer when the kids are not there, so some of the work has been done. We now have to look at how much work has been done, and will look for other sources of revenue to pay for it."

In B.C., school districts budget from July 1 to June 30 the following year, and submit their budget to the Ministry of Education in June. The province's tough new budget was handed down on Sept. 1, effectively cutting funding to programs that are already on the books or where money has already been spent. The board will have to make up any shortfall with cuts to other programs.

"We're just starting to look at (program cuts)," said Edwards. "We're looking at initially making cuts to district services, but the finance committee will be looking at everything."

At this point schools have not been asked to look at their budgets but she said it was possible in the future.

"Schools are allocated a sum of money each year and decide as a school community how they want to spend that, and that may include things like library time, special education classrooms and teachers, and things like that. It all comes out of allocation dollars," said Edwards. "We have not asked schools to look at their budgets but that doesn't mean they won't have to in the future."

The cuts come at a time where the school district had less breathing room than other years with almost no funding available in their unrestricted surplus accounts from last year. The restricted surplus, where money is carried over from year to year that can only be used for a designated purpose - such as professional development training for teachers - is also lower than usual.

The school board's finance committee met on Sept. 2 to discuss the cuts, and will meet again on Sept. 14 to discuss options for meeting the shortfall. More information and a list of recommendations will be brought to the board at the Sept. 16 board meeting.

According to Edwards, the $1.2 million cut is a significant part of the board's total budget, just over three per cent of $37 million. The Sea to Sky School Board administers to 10 elementary schools from Squamish to Pemberton and five secondary schools, with an enrollment of roughly 4,000 students each year.

The cuts to school board facility grants are province-wide, and on Tuesday the Vancouver School Board announced their plans to fight a $10.6 million cut. The board is arguing that programs like fire extinguisher testing and asbestos removal are not optional, and that the money will have to come from the school board's operating budget if the funding is not restored.

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