District budget 'a moving target'
Although it was supposed to submit a preliminary balanced budget by the end of February, the New Westminster board of education approved one with a $213,000 shortfall Thursday.
Trustee MaryAnn Mortensen said she went to the board of education meeting expecting to discuss options to finally balancing the budget after whittling it down from an anticipated deficit of $2.2 million for 2012-13 revealed in the fall.
But assistant superintendent Al Balaniuk, who has been put in charge of the budget with secretary-treasurer Brian Sommerfeldt on sick leave, told the board the Ministry of Education is understanding of New Westminster's predicament.
Mortensen said it appears Victoria will be satisfied as long as the deficit is eliminated by the end of the school year, June 30. But she would have preferred to talk about options for cuts.
"I would have liked to have had the information to discuss that," said Mortensen. "We're one man down, and Al's doing a pretty good job of bringing that information forward … [but] we were looking for this information months back."
"It's not going to be pleasant for anyone. Sitting at these meetings as a parent of two kids in the schools and as a trustee it's really hard to get this information and absorb it and realize what impact it's going to have. It's going to hurt everywhere. The senior management team has been working on deficit reduction options they will believe will have the least impact in the classroom and we'll work from there."
Balaniuk's operating budget actually had a $5,000 surplus but it's still short $218,000 on the capital side.
"It's a moving target. There are ups and downs," said board chair Michael Ewen. "There are some variances we have picked up that we have to verify. We're working with the ministry and we're working toward a balanced budget this year. There isn't any guarantee of getting [to a balanced budget]. We're hoping and we're aiming for that."
Ewen said the province indicated New Westminster would receive additional holdback funds from the education ministry, which normally happens by the end of February each year.
"Today's not February and we didn't get it," said Ewen on Friday. "My biggest concern is the variations in the operating (budget) and also the problems for next year."
The board has yet to find ways to repay an accumulated $2.8-million deficit from 2011-12, and to ensure procedural changes in its financial operations are in place to balance future budgets.
"We anticipate a deficit of $2 million for next year, and that doesn't include cost pressures," said Ewen.
Those could include such costs as carbon tax, the PST, and salary bumps for teachers who improve their education, he noted. "We could be looking at cutting $3 million and the government has made it clear there is no additional money."
Ewen said he's heard from trustees in other districts that their costs have risen because flu outbreaks amongst teachers has meant higher costs for bringing in substitutes.