Jobs on $3.7M district chopping block

Cowichan Valley School District 79 projects a shortfall of just under $3.7 million for its 2016-17 annual budget

Cowichan Valley School District 79 projects a shortfall of just under $3.7 million for its 2016-17 annual budget, which will spell some hard decisions ahead.

SD79 secretary-treasurer Jason Sandquist presented the numbers at a sparsely attended public meeting Thursday in the district’s annex building on Beverley Street, listing the disqualification for provincial funding protection and incomplete provincial funding of negotiated labour settlements for district teachers as two major factors leading to the shortfall.

“There are two ways to address a shortfall. You either increase your revenues…or you reduce expenditures,” Sandquist said, noting the bulk of SD79’s funding comes from the province so there’s little opportunity to raise revenues.

Sandquist began the presentation by showing the declining school-aged population in B.C., a figure that’s been going down since 1971. Around 2011 that levelled off, just as the population of those over 65 began steadily climbing. He noted that healthcare funding has therefore become first priority in B.C.

SD79 took on 150 new students this year and expects to be up 25 students in the coming school year.

Funding protection, handed out by the province to eligible districts to protect them from any funding decline larger than 1.5 per cent, has supported SD79 in the past when it experienced declines in student growth. However, stabilization and growth of enrolment this year led to SD79 not qualifying for funding protection for its upcoming budget. This is a big hit to balancing the budget.

Additionally, $1,671,848 of surplus was used to balance the 2015-16 budget, deferring making any reductions until this school year. Wages (including mandated pay raises), supplies, inflation and installation of the Next Generation Network to upgrade the school’s technology system are also considerable cost pressures.

“We’ve built in all the revenues we think we’re going to have for the year already,” Sandquist said. “So it really will be a reduction in expenditures. Where those will come from, I can’t speculate yet. We haven’t put anything forward to the board as far as recommendations from staff. And the board also hasn’t communicated or met with all the partners and they still have to hear the input of the public, so there are a lot of considerations.”

“But it’s pretty clear… 90 per cent of our budget is wages and salaries,” he said, stating that some people will be laid off. “Obviously when you’re making a reduction of this scale, unfortunately it affects some employment.”

Although such discussions are still to be had and Sandquist cautioned people not to panic, layoffs are certainly likely.

“With a number of that scope I don’t know how there could not be [layoffs] and balance the budget,” Sandquist said, adding that there is a legislative requirement that the budget be balanced. “It will be balanced. It’ll just mean obviously we — possibly — won’t have all the same services that we have this year.”

SD79 board chair Candace Spilsbury urged attendees to remain optimistic.

“While we don’t have much hope or smiles going into this, I’m sure we’ll find a way to make it work like this district always has in the past,” she said.

Sandquist echoed this, saying changes will need to be made.

“We haven’t had a figure like this in a few years,” he said. “It will be a difficult task and it will not mean the status quo moving forward.”

The board of education is seeking input from the public on their priorities regarding the budget and will use the community’s perspective to help make decisions.

The survey is available until April 10 on the school district’s website at www.sd79.bc.ca. There are also paper copies available at your local school office.

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