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Dealing with deficits — past and present
The experience of other districts may well guide School District 43 as it seeks to work through its budget situation. Board Chair Melissa Hyndes has not ruled out seeking a payment plan for paying off the deficit if it hasn't been eliminated by June. Although, districts aren't allowed to submit deficit budgets or run deficits, approval has been given to districts in the past to carry over deficits along as they have a plan to pay them off.
The issue of overspending has been front and centre in two other school districts, New Westminster and Langley recently, and both dealt with the situation in very different ways:
• Four years ago, Langley School District found itself with a $13.5-million operating deficit and was required to pay it back over five years. The issue was not without controversy as the superintendent was fired, the board chair resigned and the district went through three secretary treasurers before the situation was resolved with the payback plan of $3.3 million a year. Now the deficit is almost paid off. Auditor General John Doyle was also brought in to recommend internal controls.
• Last fall, it was revealed New Westminster School District was facing a $2.8-million deficit and the board hired a consultant to look into the matter. It has been seeking public input into how to make the cuts. The board is divided, with some trustees demanding the intervention of the auditor general.
School District 43 has also faced deficits in the past and dealt with them, including a $2 million deficit approximately two years ago and a roughly $7 million deficit in 2003. In the first instance, adjustments were made, including a reduction in supply budgets, and the deficit was reduced, in the second instance the district embarked on a round of school closures, among other things. In both instances, underfunding was to blame, including a decision by the provincial government not to completely fund negotiated wage increases, and reduction in holdback grants that were historically reimbursed.