Declining enrolment leaves $1.4M shortfall

Despite leading the provincial pack in receiving funding protection, the Cowichan Valley School District is looking closely at ways to reduce a budget shortfall of $1.4 million.

Trustee Mike McKay and his executive team closed several schools last year and rearranged many more but there is still work to be done because enrolment is still declining, according to district secretary-treasurer Bob Harper.

He told the audience at the last board meeting that the district had just received its figures from the province.

"Our total funding dropped by just over a million dollars but that’s what we expected because the province has made a commitment to us. We are in funding protection, which means that our funding drops at a slower rate than it would otherwise because of declining enrolment.

"What we hear from our neighbours on the North Island is that they are facing the same kind of challenges we are facing – declining enrolment and having to somehow reconcile that they’ve got more capacity than what they need to service those students.

"On the funding protection side of it, we have the dubious distinction of being the highest funding protection in the province this year. We are at the top of that list," Harper said.

What it all means is that the provincial government is giving Cowichan Valley 98.5 per cent of what it got last year.

"And that percentage and a half difference works out to a decline of just over a million dollars," Harper said.

Without this funding protection the district would have been looking at a budget about $3.4 million less.

"At that rate of about a million per year we can see we will have another three or four years where we’ll see a decline in funding. When you look at it from a graphic point of view, our enrolment is dropping more steeply while the funding is dropping at a lesser rate to try and smooth the decline in our operation [money] to fit the enrolment that we have," he said.

In addition to the reduction in funding there are some other factors that will influence the eventual true gap.

"One of the bright lights on the horizon for us is that we have really matured out our international program. We are looking at some $375,000 revenue in addition to what we are seeing today," Harper reported.

There are also pressures on the expenditure side.

"We have everything from utility rate increases, to election costs to wage hikes – basically inflationary pressure that tends to put the squeeze on," he said.

"So when you look at it in big numbers, we’re looking at a $700,000 net decline in revenue and we have an additional pressure in our costing. So, we’re looking at a $1.4 million or $1.5 million gap in total when we combine all the factors," Harper said.

One area examined each year is studenteducator ratio.

"We had been sitting [a few years back] at about 17.2 students per educator. In our current year we’re at 16.7. If we moved that ratio back to 17.2 and targeted for that then we would resolve all but about $350,000 of that $1.4 million challenge. I put that forward as a comment," he said.

McKay and district officials have been consulting with Valley residents in the past few weeks about the budget and possible disposal of school properties deemed surplus to future needs before coming out with a budget for the 2014/15 school year.