Cuts coming to balance school budget

NANAIMO – Reprieve from cuts to programs and services in school district's budget this year will not continue next year.

A reprieve from cuts to programs and services in Nanaimo school district’s budget this year will not continue next year.

The Education Ministry released preliminary operating grants for school districts Thursday. Nanaimo will get about $114 million next school year, down from nearly $116 million received this year.

Phil Turin, secretary-treasurer, said the figures are close to what he predicted in December, except for an extra $265,000 grant to introduce elements of the new B.C. Education Plan.

He also expects a shortfall of about $4.7 million, close to his earlier prediction of a $4.9-million shortfall.

“It’s significant,” he said. “We have to find a lot of money. It’s not an easy task and we’re a people-oriented organization.”

The district balanced this year’s budget using a larger-than-usual surplus carried over from the previous year, avoiding cuts to programs and services, but that luck will not continue next year, said Turin.

“We were very fortunate last year,” he said. “We will be cutting.”

Provincial funding went down by about $1.6 million, the $1.6-million surplus used to balance this year’s budget is gone, benefits are expected to increase by more than $1 million and an extra $500,000 in spending to support the district’s information technology plan takes the shortfall up to the $4.7-million total.

District staff have already identified $2 million in savings: a $500,000 surplus carried over from last year; another $500,000 surplus from this year’s budget, due to an unanticipated enrolment drop and switching over to a new accounting method; and a $1 million claw back on supplies and services budgets.

That still leaves a $2.7-million shortfall.

Turin said the operating grants do not allot any new money for employee wage increases – the district is bargaining with both its support workers and teachers – but an enrolment decline of more than 6,000 students provincewide has allowed for another year of the B.C. Education Plan grant, which was only supposed to be a one-time grant when it was handed out last year.

The Education Ministry will inform districts next month how this money is to be spent.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said it is too early to say what kind of cuts trustees will have to make to balance the books, but because supplies and services budgets have been mined for savings in recent years, cuts to staffing may be the only recourse.

“I think staff have done a good job in trying to find savings,” he said. “They’ve done what they can so far, but it looks like we’ll have to go further. I’d hoped we wouldn’t be here, but that is where we are.”

Turin will present a draft budget with proposed cuts to trustees on April 10.