Job cuts pitched to fill $1-million hole in schools budget

Okanagan Skaha may trim 11.5 positions, making it the latest B.C. school district to unveil drastic measures to balance budget

Support staff will be hardest hit under the Okanagan Skaha School District’s proposed plan to cut the equivalent of 11.5 positions to help slay its $1-million budget deficit.

“Everyone within the district is going to be impacted by varying degrees,” secretary-treasurer Bonnie Roller Routley told a public budget meeting Wednesday.

“The goal we set at the table, though, was to have the least impact in the classrooms.”

Most of the expected shortfall for 2014-15 stems from a 1.5 per cent reduction in the district’s operating grant from the Education Ministry.

The decrease is tied to declining enrolment and will put the expected operating budget at $54.1 million, while  expenses are projected to total $55.1 million.

To close the gap, the district has proposed a series of job reductions, although the total number of employees who would be affected is still unknown.

At least four of the 11.5 full-time-equivalent cuts — including an electrician, delivery driver and principal —  are expected to come from not filling vacant positions and not rehiring after retirements.

Other workforce adjustments include partial cuts to clerical staff, custodians and educational assistants, plus eliminating nearly two full teacher positions.

The district has also proposed trimming $230,000 from its services and supplies budgets, and draining $75,000 from a pool of funds for professional development, but is planning to leaves its eight-member senior management team intact.

“We’ve looked at senior management. At this point, there are no positions we feel can be reduced,” Roller Routley said.

Despite assurances the district has done its best to minimize the impact of expected cuts on students, the Canadian Union of Public Employees said kids will no doubt be affected.

“CUPE members work directly with students and maintain the facilities they use, so cuts to our members will affect the learning environment for all,” unit chairwoman Alison Reigh said in a statement.

She added that the union, which was granted unfunded wage increases last year by the B.C. government, is “definitely disappointed that the majority of the proposed budget cuts” are directed at its members.

Teachers are also worried about how having fewer CUPE members would impact their work since there will likely be less help available for special-needs and gifted students.

“It’s very sad for teachers that supports are going to be cut,” said Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union, adding members are at a loss for ideas for finding cost savings elsewhere.

“I know the trustees try to keep cuts away from the classroom,” she said, “but there comes a time when where else do you cut?”

The head of the district parent advisory council said he appreciates that many of the job reductions would be achieved through attrition.

“It’s the best of a bad situation,” said Derek Hurst. “We just have to keep lobbying the government to increase education funding,” he continued.

Such concerns about underfunding aren’t isolated to Okanagan Skaha, said school board chairman Bruce Johnson.

“All 60 districts in B.C. are facing the same thing,” he said, noting counterparts around the province have unveiled cost-cutting plans to help balance their budgets.

“We wish we didn’t have to do it, but as it stands right now, it’s a reality,” Johnson said.

School district staff and trustees are still accepting feedback on the budget, which is expected to be adopted in June. Comments can also be made online at



Penticton Western News