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Coquitlam district eyes small deficit

School District 43 has balanced the budget so far but will likely have a small deficit by the end of the year. - FILE
School District 43 has balanced the budget so far but will likely have a small deficit by the end of the year.
— image credit: FILE

Efforts to contain costs have resulted in a balanced budget for School District 43 so far this school year.

But the district’s books — hammered with a multi-million-dollar deficit in the last year — are unlikely to withstand the barrage of risks and uncertainties to keep it that way.

At Tuesday’s board of education meeting, SD43 finance staff told trustees district expenses matched revenue for the first half of the school year, in part because of higher than expected international education fees and by delaying supply funds to schools.

But that rosy pictured was dampened by several clouds on the horizon and the district’s financial officer, Chris Nicol, told trustees a small deficit is projected by the end of the year.

That’s normal after a transition year, when $12.1 million in cuts had to be made to balance the books, but Nicol said the deficit is still an issue the board must consider.

The news comes as the province and B.C.’s teachers are grappling with a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that restores the collective agreement to 2002 wording, which would reduce class size and boost special needs staffing — and increase education costs across the province.

The province plans to appeal, throwing SD43 into a state of uncertainty, says the board chair.

“We are in a no-man’s land,” said Melissa Hyndes, who said the board continues to take a wait-and-see approach knowing that it is currently out of compliance with the collective agreement. “There is really no news out there  about what we’re supposed to do.”

The district can’t afford to add more staff and meet space requirements unless the province pays, she said, adding, “The main message I would give to government is to think of students first.”

But for Coquitlam’s teachers, there is no doubt the district should go back to the pre-2002 contract. CTA president Charley King said as much to trustees and gave them a copy of the contract with the old wording, which showed smaller class sizes and more specialist teachers than are currently legislated.

Even with the current contract, the risks to the district’s balanced budget include substitute teacher costs, staffing levels, costs associated with taking over the running of the Terry Fox Theatre, lower than expected holdback funding from Victoria and a shortage of provincial funding to cover continuing education programming and SD43’s higher average teacher salary costs.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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