Ridge trustees balance budget

Adjustments made following complaint that library services to students were being cut too drastically.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board passed a balanced, $130-million operating budget for the 2013-14 school year on Wednesday.

It was done so after a few adjustments, following a complaint by the district’s secondary school teacher librarians that library services to students were being cut too drastically.

The board had to trim $5.66 million in expenses to balance the budget.

“It was, obviously, a very difficult process,” board chair Mike Murray said after the meeting. “We listened carefully to what the presenters presented last week.”

He noted that board deliberations about how to balance the budget continued virtually right until Wednesday night’s meeting, and copies of the budget were still being prepared when the board meeting was scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

“One of the key things was to make sure libraries are open for kids – we heard that in spades,” Murray said.

The most significant change from original budget proposal is that secondary teacher librarians will not be cut to half-time. Rather, they will be cut from eight teaching blocks down to five. So the six secondary school teacher-librarian positions will each be 0.625 full-time equivalents next year, instead of a full position.

Their efforts will be augmented by clerical workers, who will handle book filing and other tasks. These clerical workers earn less than teacher librarians, and the overall savings to the board will be $140,000.

Secretary treasurer Flavia Coughlan explained that the teacher librarians will still have the opportunity to work full-time in the district, with the potential to work three more blocks teaching courses.

And trustees voted to take $1.52 million from its reserves to balance the budget, up slightly from the originally proposed $1.51 million.

“We’re not done. We need to investigate further changes,” said Murray.

He explained that as long as the district’s reserves – which should be retained for unanticipated expenses – are being used to cover operating expenses, then the operating budget cannot be considered balanced over the long term.

Other cuts will involve 35 positions across the district.

Trustee Eleanor Palis spoke to the suggestion from the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association that the board should pass a so-called needs budget, which would carry a deficit, and defy laws that require the board to draft a balanced budget.

She said the outcome would be the board’s firing and a designate from the Education Ministry appointed to take its place.

Palis said these are the “most trying of times,” but she did not get involved in education “to turn my back on the tough decisions I will have to be a part of.”

The shortfall has been caused by several factors, including a projected decline in student enrolment of 197.5 full-time equivalents. That will cause a drop of $1.17 million in government per-pupil funding.

Salary and benefit increases will rise $1.89 million. Increased costs in services and supplies, including inflation and the switch from the HST to the GST/PST tax system, will cost $610,000.

Other factors, including the fact that last year’s budget was only balanced by using $1.5 million from reserves, caused a $2 million shortfall this year.

The board will spend approximately $92 million on salaries, $23 million on benefits, $12 million on services and supplies and $3 million on utilities.

Maple Ridge News