Trustees closing in on final budget cuts

Nanaimo school trustees have just $120,000 to go to balance next year’s budget.

Nanaimo school trustees have just $120,000 to go to balance next year’s budget.

Trustees held a special business committee meeting Thursday to continue discussing possible cuts to make up for a $1.4-million funding shortfall.

Sharon Welch, school board chairwoman, hopes to have the budget finished after the committee meets again Tuesday (May 3).

“We’re really close, so I think we will,” she said.

The committee is charged with debating budget strategies and recommending a budget to be passed at a regular board meeting.

Two weeks ago, the committee decided not to endorse extending spring break to two weeks, a discussion that took up half of the meeting.

Thursday’s controversial decisions included: axing the labour relations manager position; keeping child, youth and family support workers in elementary schools; and not replacing certain staff on the first day of absence.

The decision about the labour relations manager position was a close vote because staff felt that the district needed both an HR director and someone with expertise in union management to get all of the work done, said Welch.

Several trustees questioned whether providing child, youth and family support workers is the role of the public school system, said Welch, but ultimately decided that eliminating those workers from elementary schools would have a major impact on students.

“For many kids, they’re the lifeline,” added Carol McNamee, school board vice-chairwoman. “That was a big piece for all of us.”

The decision not to replace certain staff on the first day of absence, which applies to certain support workers such as education assistants and school secretaries, was also tough, said Welch, because this strategy was tried out – and proved to be unpopular – this year.

“We’ve heard a lot of information from the union about the impact it had on employee morale and the potential danger to students,” she said. “People believed it was a better cut than some of the other ones.”

Other cuts endorsed by the business committee include: increasing the square footage per custodian; reductions to the maintenance and information systems budgets; reducing three full-time clerical positions; and a further reduction to school-based administrative positions (trustees already endorsed a reduction to these positions at the previous meeting).

A special board meeting will follow Tuesday’s committee meeting if trustees are ready to approve the 2011-12 budget.