'Short-term pain' to deal with deficit — SD43 superintendent

Superintendent Tom Grant is predicting "short-term pain" for School District 43 as it grapples with a projected $7.5-million deficit and said next year's budget could include staff cuts if the district can't rid itself of the shortfall by June.

"We're going to look at everything and I think we can make a huge dent in coming up with the $5 million," Grant told The Tri-City News. "What we don't have is certainty about that and we will be working with the [provincial education] ministry to look at options going further from that.

"If we don't reach our target, we'll take a conservative approach to the next budget, which will probably mean reductions at all staffing levels," he said. "I'd rather not have to do that."

The budget situation is a far cry from last year, when the board of education passed a budget with $270 million in spending, including new programs and more teachers.

But Grant said the amount of money the district has to cut amounts to just .02% of the total budget and can be done if everyone works together.

"We'll get there," he said. "We'll get some short-term pain and I strongly believe in this district in what it can do in the area of teaching and learning."

But he conceded the district may have to come up with other options, including the possibility of running the deficit. This week, he hopes to meet with the Ministry of Finance in Victoria to talk about solutions.

Grant, who is now acting secretary-treasurer after Rick Humphreys resigned due to medical and personal reasons, said the district's financial troubles began with the revelation that 223 fewer students enrolled in SD43 schools than projected.

Asked to explain, Grant said the district "lost" about 80 students but another 140 that were expected "just didn't show up" — meaning SD43's projections were way off.

As well, an additional $200,000 in expected holdback funds — money the province keeps until enrolment numbers are confirmed — didn't materialize, leaving the district $1.7 million short in revenue.

To make matters worse, it was discovered that numerous other revenue and expense projections were wrong. For example, substitute teaching costs were about $300,000 to $400,000 higher than planned due to illness and leaves permitted for professional development, and international education fees [money foreign students pay to go to school here] were $800,000 less than expected.

"These are all trend lines on four months of data. They can all improve over the next six months," Grand said, adding later: "Miscalculation is what it was. When you add it up, it's less than 1% on the overall budget."

Among the short-term fixes proposed to deal with the deficit is a reduction in supply budgets and discretionary spending, and leaving some positions in staff development and IT unfilled.

But Grant said the district will be looking at other expenditures as well. For example, enrolment numbers for the winter/spring semester will be examined to see if adjustments in teaching staff can be made. "If we get more kids for semester two, we could finds ways to see if we have the opportunity to pull a few FTEs [full-time equivalent] out of the system. It's not going to be significant, it will allow us to do that," Grant said.

Although optimistic overall, Grant was candid about what failure to achieve these targets could mean, including budget reductions and a running a deficit next year.

"If they'll let us, that may be part of the plan with the deficit because you've got to come up with the money somehow. We will be in a restraint budget for next year and part of that will be reduced staffing levels across the district in every area."


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