Enrolment numbers cause of concern
The Fraser Cascade school district is facing reduced revenues of $283,000 for the 2014/2015 school year.
This is the third year that SD 78 has been in 'funding protection" by the Ministry of Education. Each year, MoE funding is reduced by 1.5%, bringing the total loss to just under $900,000 for the three years.
Secretary-treasurer outlined the budget at a public meeting Monday afternoon, in the library of Agassiz elementary secondary school.
She explained that only 1% of district funding comes from sources other than MOE. If this seems like a problem now, it could be even worse in the next few years.
Enrolment is currently on the decline, she said, so while they have less money for program operation, there are fewer students to teach. That enrolment decline is slowing down, and is expected to increase in the 2016/2017 school year.
"This means that when the district begins to see an increase in students, we will actually be worse off in terms of funding as we will be making due on less funding," Lowe Zucchet said.
There are a few other pressures on the budget this year, she added.
Besides the revenue reductions, they are seeing increases in BC Hydro rates, which rose 9% this April, and will rise another 6% next April. While the district has an energy saving program, and has recently upgraded some schools to be more efficient, this will still pose an estimated increase of $28,500 in energy costs.
Also taken into account are the cost pressures from inflation, and the increase in costs of services "similar to what you're probably seeing on your bills at home," she said.
Things like delivery cost charges and fuel surcharges are showing up where they never existed before, she added.
In addition to usual education funding, $20,000 has been earmarked for the November school board elections, which Lowe-Zucchet said may be a low estimate.
The district has also set aside funding to upgrade the roof of the Coquihalla school, and some of that may also come out of reserves. The estimate for that job is upward of $600,000.
Another $27,000 had to be added to the budget to cover rising costs of employee benefits, including CPP, EI, teacher pension and MSP.
A new student information system will be implementing this year, replacing BCeSis. That will require additional resources, Lowe-Zucchet said. That could add as much when $60,000 to the budget as staff time and training is taken into account.
There were some questions that remain unanswered as of yet, too.
There are outstanding teacher negotiations, a CMAW contract that is up for renewal, and exempt staff who haven't had pay increases since 2009.
The final BC Supreme Court ruling is still expected regarding class sizes and composition as well. Lowe-Zucchet said that could have a "substantial impact on budgets," not just in the Fraser-Cascade but around the province.
The district is also planning on replacing the Director of Instruction position, as an assistant superintendent. The position was left vacant when Stan Watchorn took the principalship at Kent elementary in Agassiz in January.
Since then, Dr. Karen Nelson, superintendent of schools, has been doing the work of two people.
When questioned why they would replace the position during such lean and uncertain times, Nelson answered that she cannot continue to the do the work of two people, and that the district is already one of the leanest in the province.
Lowe-Zucchet agreed, saying "I would challenge anyone to come in and find any money in this district."
"The district has been conservative in budget approach to try to ensure that the impacts of the changes in funding and costs do not mean draconian cuts," Lowe-Zucchet said in her budget overview.
Several Hope secondary teachers attended the meeting, and voiced concern over the declining quality of the trades programs there. They, too, have faced increases in costs for materials, leading to a decline in the ability to purchase new tools.
Teacher Shannon Perna said that the trades program is in dire need of attention, and funding, if they are going to properly prepare students for a job in the trades once they graduate.
"If it's going to be a priority, it should be a line item (in the budget)," she said.
Nelson agreed to meet privately with the trades teachers to go over their wish lists.
The budget was to receive a first reading on May 6, and a second reading on May 27, with a third reading and adoption at a following meeting.