Trustees give Cowichan School District’s $81 million budget the go-ahead

After an extended explanation of their $81 million final budget for this school year, Cowichan Valley school trustees decided to pass along the document to the Feb. 3 Board of Education meeting so it can be passed and adopted.

Not all the figures are final yet said Secretary Treasurer Bob Harper and Asst. Secretary Treasurer Jason Sandquist, who reviewed the budget, which has been amended to reflect changes that have occurred during the year.

However, not all the information is available yet, according to Sandquist. He explained that this includes information about the province taking back money not spent because of the strike.

In addition, the student counts from February and May need to be factored in, he said.

This is the first year since 2012 that an elected board has talked about a budget at all and, with several new trustees, the district staff spent more time with the document at the committee of the whole session Jan. 20.

Harper said this is a polishing of details. "Now that the dust has settled, what does it really look like? Do we need to change anything? This is not intended to change direction but to fine tune it," he said.

Trustee Rob Hutchins asked what funds were set aside for contingencies.

Sandquist explained that the district doesn’t carry that kind of money forward, adding that last year’s surplus of $690,000 has been allocated in this year’s budget.

He told Hutchins that if the district was to have a large amount put away in a fund, then questions would arise about why it was not being spent in classrooms instead.

Harper agreed, adding, "We fly very close to the wire."

He explained that in unusual emergency situations, the province has been known to allow a district to carry a deficit but then that must be paid back out of the next year’s budget.

Hutchins persisted, asking what happened when unexpected expenses did occur and learned that cuts have to be made elsewhere in the budget.

One advantage, according to Sandquist, is that the district keeps very closely to its exact teacher salary costs rather than estimating them using an average figure.

Harper said that most of the district’s budget covers salaries and other set expenses so there are few surprises there, but sickness among staff can be a problem.

"If it’s a bad flu year, we take a big hit," he said. "We’ve been lucky so far this year."

The process for the new budget, which will cover the 2015/16 school year, will start soon.