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Coquitlam school district deficit now $10 million
The bouncing ball that was School District 43's budget last year has come to rest on a final deficit figure — $10 million — which trustees hope can be paid over multiple years to ease the pain.
Tuesday the board of education accepted its audited financial statements and came to grips with the news that another $1.8 million had to be added to the projected $8.2 million because of a change in accounting procedures resulting in a bigger number.
"It's not just us, all districts are changing over to the new accounting procedures," board chair Melissa Hyndes explained, adding that the news, while grim, at least gives the district final numbers to work with.
"It's a starting point now we just have to move on," Hyndes said.
The money won't likely have to be paid back for a year, and even then the deficit pay-back plan could be spread over as much as five years.
Still, the news will likely come as a shock to members of the Coquitlam Teachers Association and CUPE Local 561, who have been critical of the district's handling of its finances.
At Tuesday's first board meeting of the new school year, presidents of both the CTA and CUPE took the district to task for problems that led to the deficit that would have been $5 million larger if cuts weren't made early in the year.
"We're quite concerned about the ability of the district to get a handle on its financial situation, given the inability of district leadership and the board to adequately explain what has happened so far," said the CTA's Charley King.
Meanwhile, job cuts and the impact on CUPE members was the focus of Dave Ginter's remarks. The head of the local bargaining unit said layoff notices were handed to 80 members, not 51 as originally projected, and half went to teacher's assistants who help in school offices, libraries and even support the high-growth area of French Immersion.
Ginter called for more transparency in the budgeting process so people know where they stand. "I know I'm not sure, and my members aren't sure," he said.
Teacher job loss was high, too, King said, with 60 not called back after 500 layoff notices were issued, and many of those who were hired back were given reduced hours or substitute teaching posts.
Meanwhile, the audited financial statements did come with some good news. For one thing, the projected deficit of $8.2 held fast over the latter part of the year, despite some fluctuations in spending and revenue. The district got its $740,000 holdback grant, money the province pays when enrollment is confirmed but is not guaranteed, and more revenue was generated through Continung Education. The district also spent less on professional development, $268,000,
However, those gains were offset by higher substitute costs ($738,000), more spent on services including legal expenses ($599,000), and more spent on dues and fees ($120,000) related to international education homestead and commissions.
Schools also didn't save as much as hoped on supplies, partly because the district ramped up its deficit-reduction plan late in the school year, adding $601,000 to expenses.
But it's the $1.8 million caused by changes to accounting procedures that hit the hardest.
Acting secretary treasurer Guy Bonnefoy said the district has no choice but to accrue the costs resulting from the switch to Public Sector Accounting Board practices from GAPP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).
"I've got $10 million we have to find over the next period of time," he acknowledged.
The additional $1.8 million number was derived from changes related to how employee future benefits, including unused sick time and vacation pay are accounted. "We didn't have sick leave in the past," Bonnefoy added, noting that the district doesn't pay out unused sick leave to employees when they depart. The conversion to the new accounting framework covers the cost of changes from 2011 through to 2013, he said.