Bigger budget carries risks
It was an uncharacteristically subdued board of education that approved $9 million in new spending for teachers, support workers, new programs and a beefed up internet system.
Tuesday night, the School District 43 board of education gave the nod to spending hikes in preparation for a new budget bylaw worth nearly $250 million that trustees will likely pass May 10.
The funding enhancements come after years of wringing supply budgets and the staff development department dry for money to pay for salaries as well as hikes to utilities and premiums. Thanks to a $6-million infusion from the province to cover increased enrolment, mostly from full-day kindergarten, the district will hire dozens of new teachers and support workers.
And by lifting $638,000 from a $2-million enrolment hold-back grant, expected to come next year, the board was able to restore some cuts and put money toward a new program to get non-attending students back into the classroom.
The remaining $1.4 million from the hold-back grant is being set aside to fund financial obligations related to contractual issues that may materialize next year. No information about this is available because the issue is pending, according to assistant secretary treasurer Bob Janzen, but the obligations are for the current contact, not the one that is currently in negotiations.
Still, there is an element of risk in the budget as there is no guarantee SD43 will get that $2-million hold-back grant.
In his presentation, secretary treasurer Rick Humphreys said it was risky to put that money in the regular budget because if it doesn’t materialize, the district will have to make significant cuts to avoid a deficit.
“You know what that entails,” he warned. But he said the district’s leadership team didn’t see any other way to balance the budget.
With minimal discussion, trustees unanimously approved spending improvements worth $8.68 million in operating expenditures and $800,000 for technology from local capital reserve revenue that has yet to be generated.
Most of the discussion surrounded a new “increased success for all” program at a cost of $260,000 that will develop an approach to get non-attending students back to school, including 32 middle school students who are staying home.
“I think this is very exciting,” said Coquitlam Trustee Diane Sowden.
Brian Robinson, another Coquitlam trustee, said he would have been prepared to vote against the budget if the program was not included. “We didn’t want to see this fall off the table,” he said. “We can’t have those children out there at loose ends. It’s just going to create a problem in the end.”
Port Coquitlam Trustee Judy Shirra said she wanted a report back on the program because “the onus is on us.”
Trustees were also happy to see custodial services approved at small schools so principals don’t have to unplug toilets and de-ice sidewalks. According to Humphreys, those services are being added because of a formula that was incorrectly applied over the past several years.
The new budget will re-introduce for next school year a two-week spring break and an extra November holiday, which had one trustee expressing concerns that economics were trumping educational needs.
“It really bothers me,” Coquitlam Trustee Gerri Wallis said, noting that the district continues to fund smaller districts that are losing enrolment. “The main thing is we’re not getting money from the ministry.”
What’s new in the budget:
• $3.5 million for teachers for full-day kindergarten and other needs
• $885,000 support positions for full-day kindergarten and other needs
• $800,000 for technology improvements
• $260,000 for a program to get absentee students back to school
• $135,000 custodial services for small schools
• $35,000 teacher mentorship program
• $75,000 technology security and network position
• restoration of 2010/2011 cuts
• $50,000 French support
• $100,000 leave replacement
• $100,000 learning support teacher
• $157,000 Learning Without Boundaries support
• $8,000 grant to District Parent Advisory Council (total $14,000)