Trustees aim to cut $2.7 million from budget

NANAIMO – School trustees considering about two dozen proposed cuts to balance next year's budget.

Moving students around, cutting support and specialist teachers, and closing services are all strategies Nanaimo school trustees are considering to balance next year’s budget.

The district is facing a $4.7-million shortfall in its 2013-14 budget.

While district staff had previously identified $2 million in savings to put toward next year’s budget – a $500,000 surplus carried over from last year; another $500,000 surplus from this year’s budget, due mainly to an unanticipated enrolment drop; and a $1-million clawback on supplies and services budgets – that still left about $2.7 million in proposed cuts to talk about at Wednesday night’s business committee meeting.

Staff presented trustees with about two dozen proposed cuts to equal the remaining shortfall which, if implemented, will result in a loss of 10 teaching positions and almost eight support workers.

These proposals do not include the recent decision to extend spring break to save about $400,000, as the district needs to come to an agreement with teachers before that move can be finalized, although that money could be saved for the following budget year.

“We have a financial crisis this year – we’re going to have more of one next year,” said Phil Turin, secretary-treasurer. “I realize that this is a difficult decision for all. We tried to look at the entire organization.”

More than $2 million of the proposed cuts come from instructional services: closing the District Resource Centre at the old Dufferin Crescent school site; moving English-stream students at Quarterway and Davis Road elementary schools to neighbouring schools; moving most junior learning alternative students back to their catchment-area schools, with about 14 remaining at the Five Acres site until the end of the year; and elimination of the gifted/enrichment resource teacher, two behaviour resource teachers, the safe schools coordinator and the early years coordinator.

Deputy superintendent John Blain said there are less than 100 English-program students left at French immersion schools Quarterway and Davis Road. These students could be absorbed into neighbouring schools with minimal staffing increases, while creating additional space for future French immersion students – there are about 19 kindergarten students and 44 Grade 1 students on a waiting list to get into the program.

As for moving Grades 8 and 9 junior learning alternative students back into the regular secondary school program and the position cuts, staff believe that students will still be well served through the district’s new response-to-intervention teaching strategy, which makes available four multi-disciplinary teams to help teachers who request additional support, said Blain.

Another strategy is to move some staff costs out of the operating budget and into special purpose funds. The province gives the district a special fund, called CommunityLINK, to support vulnerable students and staff recommend paying for two support workers, a half-time vision resource teacher and three additional elementary counsellors out of this budget, bringing the total elementary counselling positions up to 11.

Trustee Donna Allen found that move disappointing.

“The rule was CommunityLINK wasn’t for funding positions, it was for extra,” she said. “You had enough money from the government to have the counsellors you needed. This was all supposed to be extra to help our children.”

Other proposed cuts include closing the print shop, not replacing an accountant, removing funding for Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation’s secretary position, eliminating two caretaker positions, deferring spending on laptops for secondary teachers (part of the district’s technology plan) for one year, and a five-per cent increase in rental revenues.

Near the end of the meeting, trustee Nancy Curley asked senior management to calculate what a cut of two per cent of all non-unionized employee salaries would equal and look into whether the board could legally reduce salaries.

“I like what secretary-treasurer Turin said earlier about wanting to share the pain throughout the organization,” she said.

Justin Green, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, agreed. While the budget proposals include cuts to teachers and support staff, there is none for administrators, he said.

“When I see zero, I’m offended,” said Green. “Equity is what we’re asking for.”

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, put forward a second motion asking staff to negotiate a rental or lease agreement for use of Serauxmen Stadium.

He said the district is considering raising rental rates, yet is not receiving revenue from Nanaimo Minor Baseball Association for use of the stadium.

“This is an anomaly that is sort of embarrassing,” said Brennan. “I know we’re going to be vilified and criticized, told that we are going to ruin children’s lives, but I think we have to do it.”

Both Curley and Brennan’s motions passed.

Turin said the proposals are the result of senior management discussions over the past weeks and the budget could change before it is finalized.

To review a complete list of the 2013-14 budget proposals, please go to www.sd68.bc.ca.

The public will have a chance to comment on the draft budget at a special board meeting Thursday (April 18) at Nanaimo District Secondary School.

Please contact Cathy Kelt at 250-741-5238 or ckelt@sd68.bc.ca by Wednesday (April 17) at noon to make a presentation.

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