No common sense in schools budget process

The budgeting process for school districts is a mess and needs a serious overhaul by the provincial government.

It’s not a mess through any fault of the school districts. It’s a mess because of the requirements from the province that they provide a fully nailed down, balanced budget at a time when everybody knows the numbers will still change, possibly significantly.

District staff should not have to be shooting at “a continually moving target”, as one district official called it last week.

This is serious business. The Cowichan school board was fired because they declined to submit a balanced budget.

This determines resources not only for classrooms but for busing, maintenance and utilities for the year. And yet, the way things are set up with exact yearly enrolment figures dictating funding to a large extent, long-term planning is severely hampered.

The budget is due at the ministry in the spring.

Reliable enrolment figures aren’t available until the start of the school year in the fall (and even these are subject to change through the year).

You see the problem.

So here we are in January passing the final budget for this school year, with changes in the millions of dollars.

That money has to come from somewhere. Even if boards of education leave contingencies to try to help mitigate the impact of budget changes, it can still easily leave districts scrambling to shift things around.

Our school district staff does an exemplary job of predicting the enrolment numbers so they don’t dig themselves a giant hole in the spring that must be filled in the fall/winter.

But they shouldn’t have to function like this.

We completely agree that some kind of draft budget for the next school year should be produced in the spring. That’s just common sense.

But a to-the-penny accounting should wait until the district actually knows how much money will be coming in.

That’s just common sense, too.

Otherwise, it’s a recipe for shortfalls.

Nobody wants to deal with that when students are in the desks and programs are underway.

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