Okanagan-Shuswap School District’s budget options spare any student cuts this year, the District Parent Advisory Council says the situation is a reprieve not a solution.
The parents group, known as the DPAC, has been a primary voice regarding spending concerns in the school district, which have intensified recently following the discovery that over the past five years approximately $10.5 million in operational surplus funds was transferred to fund capital projects. These capital funds were used, in part, to fund the new $9.3 million District Education Support Centre.
“Though DPAC is happy students won’t be affected as gravely as originally proposed, we caution that this is only a temporary, one-time solution, that has not mended the trust between parents and the school district,” said Kari Wilkinson, president of the DPAC.
The school district needed to reduce its budget by a projected $1.3 million this year and had previously been looking at significant cuts to student programs in order to balance the books.
Instead, a new budget option that appears to be favoured by most trustees calls for the elimination of a $500,000 transfer to the capital funds, which largely comes from the postponement of the school district’s technology plan to upgrade computer systems. This transfer, when combined with a $300,000 one-time savings on employee benefit premiums, leaves the school district with a much narrower surplus of $186,200.
With this plan, the vast majority of cuts to student programs and services will not be required and those levels of service will remain at the same level as the current school year.
The budget decisions are not yet final. Trustees will vote on the budget at the May 10 regular meeting.
At the committee meeting where the budget was discussed, trustees recognized the solution is temporary. The school district will likely need to make another sizeable reduction to the budget at this time next year.
“We have to be careful about what funding is sustainable and what is one-time money,” said Bobbi Johnson, chairperson.
For at least one trustee, there remains the hope that by next year, there could be additional provincial funds for education.
“The policy of having schools at 95 per cent capacity, I hope there is some recognition of how this is unrealistic in a rural school district,” said trustee Larissa Lutjen.
“In an election year we may see some different policies that could take the pressure off us.”
But the DPAC is doubtful about any new funding from the province and is concerned for the future.
“Indecision is not without consequence. When trustees continue to delay major decisions such as school reconfigurations and re-examining a top-heavy organization, pressure continues to mount every year,” said Wilkinson.