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Longer break in 2012, too

School District 43 will schedule a longer spring break next year and an extra holiday for staff and students this fall to balance its 2011/'12 budget.

School District 43 will schedule a longer spring break next year and an extra holiday for staff and students this fall to balance its 2011/'12 budget.

Banking on a savings of about $400,000 from money not spent on substitute teachers, the district is expecting to continue to offer the popular extra days off next year but no other innovations or cuts are planned in what is essentially a stand-pat budget.

"This is an incremental budget," SD43's secretary treasurer, Rick Humphreys, told Tri-City school trustees at a board of education meeting Tuesday as he presented the district's preliminary budget analysis.

The infusion of about $6 million to cover the cost of full-day kindergarten has reduced the pressure for staff cuts but there is no more money for additional programs.

Humphreys told trustees most of the extra money will go to pay for teachers and support workers for an additional 600 full-time equivalent students, most of them extra bums in seats because five-year-olds will be attending school for a longer day.

In addition, the district will see a $44 jump in per-pupil funding up to $6,781, which will help cover increases in insurance premiums and hikes in transportation costs.

But board chair Melissa Hyndes noted SD43 still lags behind other districts. "We're the lowest funded district in the province," said the Port Moody trustee.

Priorities in this budget will be replacing people on leave, which was identified as a key issue for teachers and principals. A small surplus from the current year may also be available to help with these costs, putting SD43 in a much better position than last year when it faced a $3.6 to $3.7 million deficit.

CLASS ACTION SUIT LOOMS

But there are still several issues on the horizon: the district needs to upgrade its slow internet service and install monitoring software that will enable it to prevent inappropriate material from getting through on the internet. The cost for this upgrade is expected to be $875,000 for one year, including the addition of a technology staff person.

The district is also anticipating it may have to pay $1.4 million in unspecified costs for "contractual obligations."

No information about this was available because the issue is pending, assistant secretary treasurer Bob Janzen told The Tri-City News, but the obligations are for the existing contract, not the one that is currently in negotiations.

But the district can't pay for it or the technology upgrade unless it receives an enrolment hold-back grant worth $2.5 million next year. The province keeps this money back until enrolment is confirmed and can't be relied on, district staff say.

As well, there could be higher costs in the future after a court ruled the province erred in removing class size and composition from provincial bargaining.

And SD43 has been served with a writ of summons for a class action lawsuit application for reimbursement of summer school fees after a similar suit was certified against the Vancouver School Board.

Hyndes said the district "will be filing a response in due course." The suit could affect fees paid by parents between 2003 and 2007, when summer school became free.

But those are long-term concerns outside of the district's control. In the meantime, trustees are expected to put their stamp on the budget in the coming weeks after hearing from its senior leadership team.

Two other meetings are planned for April 19 and 26, leading up to planned passage of the budget on May 3.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com