News

Coquitlam district faces $13.4 million deficit

School District 43 school superintendent Tom Grant. - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
School District 43 school superintendent Tom Grant.
— image credit: DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

School District 43 is expecting another budget shortfall next school year — $13.4 million —  and will for the second year in a row have to cut jobs and other spending to stay in the black.

On Tuesday, at a sparsely attended town hall meeting, SD43 officials laid out the problem that will require another round of cost-cutting to balance the 2014/’15 budget. They blamed chronic underfunding by the provincial government and other cost pressures for the problem.

Now, teachers, support workers, parents and others are being asked to help come up with solutions to avoid deep staff cuts, and superintendent Tom Grant said no stone will be unturned to save money.

“We are under such severe pressures that everything has to be considered,” Grant said Tuesday. “So, as a district team, we are looking at everything from staffing, to school programming, to the operations in schools to cafeterias, to school supplies and other school efficiencies such as busing or any of the other operations we look at.”

The anticipated shortfall is a daunting amount after two years of budget cutting but board chair Melissa Hyndes said it’s a structural problem that has been in the making for several years.

It took a while to notice it last year, she said, because of inaccurate revenue and expense projections.

“Same as last year, same problem,” Hyndes said, warning parents to brace themselves for cuts that could affect things such as transportation. “Things that might have been protected won’t be protected any more.”

For example, students who currently get bused to Moody middle school from Anmore and Port Moody’s north shore will need to find another form of transportation after the Eagle Mountain middle school opens next fall in Anmore. Moody middle busing cuts have been in the works for a while because the new school will be closer to students’ homes but the opening of the new school confirms the plan.

But other busing reductions may have to be made, too, officials confirmed.

As well, reductions may be considered for cafeteria service and other operations to keep the cuts away from the classroom.

CUTS YET TO BE ANNOUNCED

The full extent of cuts won’t be known until April 15, when the district’s leadership team makes its recommendations. The board plans to hear from members of the public at meetings over the next few weeks and pass a final budget on April 29.

The reasons for the deficit are many but officials say a major contributor is low student funding. Students in SD43 get $545 less than the provincial average this year and the amount will be further reduced by $59 next year, to $6,966 per student. In comparison, the provincial average for 2014/’15 is expected to be $7,538 per student.

“You can extrapolate what that $500 means on a base of 31,000 students,” Chris Nicolls, the district’s assistant secretary-treasurer, corporate & financial services, told trustees, teachers, principals and support workers who attended Tuesday’s town hall.

The problem is further compounded, officials say, by the fact district funding hasn’t kept up with inflation, meaning SD43 schools have absorbed $16 million in extra costs since 2009, and a funding freeze announced in February by the province means increased benefit, utility, salary and other costs won’t be funded.

Funding for education “has been diminishing,” Grant said, acknowledging that trustees plan to meet with local MLAs today (Friday) but getting more money for education could be a hard sell given provincial focus on health care and infrastructure.

“We’ve somehow got to change that,” he said.

Coquitlam Teachers’ Association president Charley King said he was disappointed the district is facing yet another budget shortfall but said he us pleased the information is being distributed so more people know what’s going on.

“More information empowers people,” King said, although he acknowledged the district will have a hard time avoiding staff cuts given the severity of the problem.

“They need to exhaust everything before cutting front line employees who work with kids,” King said.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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