It wasn’t as bad as it looked.
That was the message administration gave School District 57 trustees about the amended 2014-15 annual budget, which was presented at Tuesday’s public meeting.
Looking at the basic numbers, it appeared the district would need to take another $4 million from its surplus, this after already budgaeting for a similar $3 million during initial discussions last March.
“The accounting department made some changes to the way the budget was prepared,” board chairman Tony Cable said. “They explained to the trustees at an earlier meeting what the changes were, and how making them increased the transparency of the process.”
One of the biggest changes was that money budgeted to individual schools to be used as they saw fit was included as part of the possible deficit. Cable says that is unlikely to hold true.
“We would like to see schools make these school-level decisions. They are the ones who know their communities best.
“We anticipate that we will see some of that money come back as surpluses at the end of the year. Principals are good managers.”
Trustee Brenda Hooker, the chair of the management and finance committee, said her biggest concern was with the possible deficit of $1 million.
“We have some concerns about sustainability. We may still have to take $1 million out of our reserve surplus, but that leaves us with just over $2 million left in that reserve.
“It wouldn’t take too much more of a budget crunch to cause us to look at more ways to save money.”
One of the possible ways to save money would be to close schools, but Cable doesn’t want to go down that road.
“Trustees in districts around Vancouver resisted the closing of schools, and now they have many underutilized schools.”
Cable also said another number at the top of the budget may hold hope for the future. The number of school-age students in the district was originally budgeted at 12,534 full-time equivalents, but the amended budget, based on enrolment figures from Sept. 30, is 12,688.75.
“We may have turned the corner on declining enrolments,” Cable said, “which is always good.”
The board also passed a motion asking for a face-to-face meeting with Education Minister Pete Fassbender. Hooker said the meeting would give trustees a chance to make their case for increased funding.
“We would have to provide specific examples of where extra funding would make an impact for our students.”
With this year’s amended budget out of the way, trustees will turn to the 2015-16 budget in the near future.
“Stating March 10,” Cable said, “we start a whole new round of budget discussions. It’s the most important thing we do.
“We can’t worry about any other issues without having the budget in place.”