Trustees slash Cowichan school budgets for clerical, maintenance

The Cowichan Valley Board of Education is working its way steadily towards approval of a budget totaling $81,964,033 for the 2015/16 school year.

It took trustees some time to reach that figure, though, as they made some tough decisions at their April 15 education and business committee meeting. First off, they decided not to cut $209,651 from the education assistant allocation and then followed that by recommending that the student/educator ratio be set at 17.3.

According to district figures, they are looking at 7,371 full-time equivalent school age students and 76 adult students, down a little from this year.

They also looked at the merit of reducing school-based clerical time based on declining enrolment and asked for a review of the staffing formula before deciding to follow a recommendation to cut $132,000 from the amount of money from that clerical budget.

When the annual headache of considering the budget for maintenance for school district properties came up for discussion, the board decided to reduce the district’s United Steelworkers staff allocation by $188,500.

Another perennially tough topic for trustees has been transportation costs and this year the board voted to keep the bus fees at the same rate for 2015/16 but plan to increase them by 10 per cent for the 2016/17 school year.

After a discussion about providing flu shots to employees to promote wellness, the board reduced the employee wellness/absenteeism section of the budget by $208,000.

Trustees also reduced district resources to the tune of $100,000 and cut the technology plan budget by $50,000.

But they also trimmed the top of the district tree.

School based administration was reduced by $110,800 while the board cut $209,651 from an anticipated $404,479 in exempt staff pay increases so as to make up for that cut in education assistant staffing.

And, not surprisingly given his expressed shock earlier this year at the lack of a contingency fund, Trustee Rob Hutchins convinced his colleagues to put aside $200,000 for that purpose, putting it into the supplies budget.

As always the biggest part of the district’s budget falls under the category of "instruction" with that alone accounting for $59,713,683 of the total. By contrast, maintenance only gets $8,736,612.

At a special meeting on April 23, the trustees passed the first two readings of the amended budget.