SD72 Board Chairperson John Kerr said there are going to be some hard choices ahead as the school district puts together its budget for the 2022/2023 year.
“We are facing a $1 million deficit,” he said.
Typically the district has covered its deficits by using its accumulated reserve fund, but Kerr noted in past years it has been encouraged strongly by the province to spend its surplus money.
Last year SD72 budgeted for a $2 million deficit to use up some of that reserve money, dropping the fund from $4.3 million to $2.3 million, but unexpected costs this year have left it in a difficult position.
A difference of $850,000 between budgeted and actual costs for teacher on call coverage due to the pandemic has resulted in the emergency reserves dipping down to $1.38 million.
“Roughly 88 percent of our budget is staffing costs,” he noted. “And the other 12 per cent of our costs are things like heating, electricity, gas, fuel, and vehicle replacement.”
Those latter costs are due to rise, Kerr said.
“Our budget this year is $79 million, so that’s about $9.5 million which will be subject to inflation.”
A 5.1 per cent rate of inflation will result in an extra $480,000 in costs, approximately.
“That’s going to be an additional amount of money that we’re going to have to find to keep the system running,” Kerr said.
“We can’t just say – oh, we’re not going to spend four or five hundred thousand dollars on that stuff. Can we cut our fuel costs by four or five hundred thousand dollars? Probably not.”
The provincial education budget is set to increase by 3.8 per cent for the upcoming school year, but Kerr said that will only cover enrolment increase.
He pointed to school boards across B.C. which are all in similar predicaments.
“Victoria, Surrey, Vancouver, Richmond, Smithers, Vernon. Those are just districts off the top of my head that I’ve read about who are all running deficits at this point,” he said.
“I can’t believe that poor planning is that endemic across the province that there are so may districts are running deficits.”
The only place cuts can come from, Kerr said, is educational services, meaning staff.
“We’re not running a really rich operation here,” he said. “We’re offering what the board believes is necessary to ensure the success of our students.”
Which services have yet to be determined.
“Senior management deals with the running of our deficit,” he said. “They sort it out, and they bring it to the board, and tell us what the recommendations are, the board looks at it, and makes a decision based on our best information.”