Nanaimo school cuts avoided due to surplus

NANAIMO – School officials propose to balance next year's budget with surplus money carried forward from the current school year.

A temporary reprieve from budget cuts could be in the works for Nanaimo students and staff.

School officials propose to balance next year’s budget with surplus money carried forward from the current school year, despite an estimated $1.6 million funding shortfall for the 2012-13 school year.

Phil Turin, secretary-treasurer, said the district is in an unusual position this year due to its funding protection grant and receiving unexpected extra payments from the province, and the surplus cash can absorb the projected shortfall.

Funding protection is given to districts with falling enrolment to protect against a funding drop larger than 1.5 per cent, as districts are funded on a per-student basis.

Turin said the grant went down $1.4 million next year and will continue to drop 1.5 per cent in coming years as enrolment continues to drop. He forecasts a funding shortfall of $2.1 million for 2013-14.

“We’re in a bit of a window of opportunity this year,” he said. “We’re on borrowed time. We have to change how we do business or we’ll be in more trouble than we are today.”

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said it is “uplifting in a way” to not be contemplating a list of cuts for next school year, but the good news won’t last.

“I’m sure the partner groups were surprised because it’s usually doom and gloom at budget meetings,” he said. “We’re happier than we have been, but at some point, we’re going to have to make some hard decisions. We can’t continue to do things in the same old way.”

Factoring in the district’s Learning Improvement Fund of about $1.5 million – a separate pot of money to be used to help teachers meet complex needs in classrooms by providing extra resources such as more education assistants – Brennan said services for students should actually be enhanced next year.

Turin said this year’s surplus came about for several reasons: teacher job action meant fewer expenditures on services and supplies than budgeted for and the district had fewer special needs students than budgeted for, although it still received the money due to the funding protection grant.

There were also some unexpected payouts from the province: the district found out that about $167,000 of the savings from the three-day teacher strike would remain in the operating budget (the province directed that the remaining $744,000 was to be put into the Learning Improvement Fund) and the district received an additional $200,000 in provincial holdback funds – money that is usually distributed at the end of the year, if at all.

The additional money put the projected surplus up to $2.3 million, which is why management decided not to recommend cuts, said Turin.

“It’s very difficult to have a huge surplus and make cuts at the same time,” said Turin. “Last year, we restricted $575,000 of surplus to balance this year’s budget.”

Staff propose trustees still consider extending spring break from one week to two weeks – a move expected to save about $366,000. That money would go into a special fund for special initiatives, such as a plan to update the district’s technology.

While next year’s proposed budget is mainly a rollover of this year’s, staff included a new position of deputy superintendent to support the establishment of a learning services department.

Trustees will collect feedback on the proposed budget at a public meeting Tuesday (April 17) and will adopt a budget May 2.





Nanaimo school district’s budget by the numbers

u $116.4 million — expected revenue from the province

u $6.1 million — revenue from rentals, investment income, international student fees and special grants

u 90 — per cent of the district’s budget goes toward salaries and benefits

u 2, 285 — fewer students will attend Nanaimo schools than 10 years ago, a decline of about 14.5 per cent since 2002-03. Significant because enrolment drives funding

u $16.3 million – district’s calculation of total net budget reductions since 2002-03. Trustees made cuts in all but three of those years

u $1.6 million — projected shortfall for next year, which staff suggest can be absorbed by surpluses this year

u $2.1 million — forecasted shortfall for 2013-14 school year

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