Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Patrick and School District No. 72 are putting together the budget for next year. Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror file

Campbell River district adding transition funds for kindergarten kids

School district using previous years’ surplus to balance books

Support for kindergarten kids, more staffing hours for maintenance and First Nations education will be the likely beneficiaries in the upcoming school budget.

At the May 8 school board meeting, Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Patrick outlined the pending budget situation for trustees.

The district is planning for a shortfall for the coming year and will use previous school years’ surplus to balance the budget in the amount of approximately $735,264.

The budget process happens over two phases. The district must provide a balanced preliminary budget by the end of June for the coming year based on expected enrollment. Following a count of student numbers at the end of September, districts receive their operating grant providing the bulk of their funding and then put together a final budget during the year. Surpluses can be generated then if the funding ends up by higher-than-projected or spending comes in lower. This year, with some budgeting changes, the district has freed up some money to add funding for a few projects.

“It’s an opportunity for the board to add some services,” Patrick said later. “Some years it’s been ‘take away’ services, but this year, they’re in a position to add some services.”

One of the proposed additions is for $10,000 more to help with kindergarten transition services, in order to add another adult staff member in classes for a period to help new students make the transition into school life, especially as some are coming from an environment of one-on-one attention. The plan is to get the children used to being around other students, following routines and handling expectations.

”We want to create safe environments where our students feel welcome,” Assistant Superintendent Nevenka Fair told trustees at the meeting.

The program this past year ended up costing more than anticipated because of a lack of educational assistants, which meant adding extra teaching time.

Another area where the district wants to add money is to maintenance staff, specifically in the form of a full-time painting position. This is expected to help catch up on some work that fell behind following cutbacks in previous years. The district was also considering adding a carpenter position but could only find the budget room at this time for the one position.

“Facilities really have been underserved for quite some time,” Patrick told the board. “It actually makes the job of the remaining people that much harder. There’s a bit of a maintenance deficit that they’re facing.”

At present, the district has been using chargebacks to cover costs for work performed rather than including money for the work up front in the budget. Citing inequities between schools or parent-advisory councils, Trustee Daryl Hagen said he hoped the district could move past the practice and add money in the budget for positions.

Finally, the district also wants to include roughly $20,000 in funding for the planning and implementation of First Nations initiatives in the district, as well as training.

After the meeting, Patrick said the district would always like to add more projects, but supply costs in the form of diesel for the district fleet were about $30,000 higher than anticipated.

“It reduced the amount of money we had to add,” he said. “That’s why it was limited to those three items rather than being able to add a fourth or fifth item.”

During last year’s budget planning, the hike in diesel costs were anticipated at the outset.

“It really kind of came to our attention as we were planning the budget,” Patrick said.

Trustee Ted Foster asked whether the district would consider natural gas alternatives for lower fuel costs. Patrick responded that, at present, the lifespan of school buses is only about five years, meaning conversion would not make sense, especially as the district would bear the costs.

For the coming year, the district has taken staff, parent and even student input for the budget. This week the process remains open for additional comments. Trustees will vote on the preliminary budget at the upcoming meeting on May 29.