$2 million boost for final Cowichan Valley school budget

Cowichan Valley school trustees passed their final budget for this school year

Cowichan Valley school trustees passed their final budget for this school year at their regular meeting on Feb. 14, approving a document that includes almost $2 million more than their first drafts.

The reasons for that centre around a second-straight year of increases in students, which, with the Cowichan Valley district now out of funding protection, sees that the district gets extra money for the extra kids, explained secretary-treasurer Jason Sandquist.

He also reported that, “for the first time in many years the district has a reconciled amended annual budget that has not utilized all of the prior year’s surplus to balance.

“The district’s unallocated prior year surplus amounts to $994,396: money that remains available for future board decisions,” he said.

“A budget is a dynamic document that is managed and amended to reflect changes as they occur throughout the school year. There have been some significant amendments to the original budget that was adopted in May for 2016/2017,” he said.

First, is that school age enrolment grew by 169.25 full-time-equivalent students as of Sept. 30. On that pivotal date, the year’s final count is taken and every possible permutation of the ways a student can occupy a seat in a class is taken into consideration: hence the quarter student in the number.

In addition, special education designations increased from projections by 139 FTE, which Sandquist called “very significant growth”, and aboriginal education students receiving a program of enhanced study increased by 64 FTE over projections, which he said was “also a large increase.”

Therefore, funding increased by $2,967,437 from what was projected.

Then, the district “received notification that the administrative savings that were removed from the estimated funding calculation would be returned to districts. This resulted in an additional $348,411 of revenue,” Sandquist said.

In August, the district also received $283,524 from the province to fund the elimination of in-catchment busing fees.

But, the increases in students also meant more spending.

An additional $861,876 was required for education assistants to provide support to the newly designated students and $1,368,398 in teaching staff was added to support enrolment growth and student supports, he said.

On top of that, “the exempt staff compensation freeze was lifted after being implemented in 2009. This allowed compensation improvements for exempt, principal, and vice principal staffing.”

One final cost was the reinstatement of the district’s annual payment of $50,000 towards the retirement of unfunded employee future benefits.

If the district can find an additional $50,000 per year for three more years, that liability will finally be gone.

Trustees first decided to attack that problem in 2002 and successive boards have wrestled with finding money ever since.

Sandquist also told trustees about some possible “risk factors” with the rest of this school year’s budget, even though the closer it gets to year end, the more accurate the numbers will be.

A snowy winter is adding to the district’s snow clearing and utility budgets, but February is also when employee absenteeism is highest due to colds and flu.

Sandquist said it would be interesting to eventually see if the “snow days” gave sick staff time to recover and that a reduction in absenteeism will offset the higher snow-clearing costs.

Finally, “a longer term risk” involves the implications of the Supreme Court of Canada decision on class size and composition.

“For the 2016/2017 year, interim funding was provided through letters of understanding between the province and the BC Teachers’ Federation. How this decision will impact the 2017/2018 budget is still unknown but could be supported if needed by the retention of the current unallocated operating surplus [$994,396],” he said.