School trust accounts will not be raided to make up a larger budgetary shortfall, the chairman of the Okanagan Skaha school board, said Tuesday.
“We’re not going to take any of your monies that you saved for your playground,” Trustee James Palanio told a parent following a meeting of the board’s business committee.
The meeting provided a venue for top school administrators and elected officials to respond to concerns about looming cuts that were reported exclusively by The Herald on Feb. 7.
Sources who aren’t authorized to speak publicly told The Herald principals have been asked for proposals to cut 15% from their regular funding and hand over 15% from their school trust accounts to come up with a total of $377,000 to offset a projected shortfall in the 2019-20 budget.
Palanio didn’t deny The Herald’s report outright, but stressed no decisions will be made until the school board’s next regular meeting on Feb. 24.
“We’re in a deficit, so we’re going to be looking at different things. We don’t know what any of them are yet, but from what I understand is people have been asked to tighten their belts. How they’re going to do it, we don’t know yet. That hasn’t been decided yet,” said Palanio.
“I believe the question has been asked out at the schools, they’re going to see if they can do some, we’re going to make some adjustments here somehow, and… on Feb. 24, we’re going to make some decisions then.”
Superintendent Wendy Hyer did acknowledge, however, that there have been discussions with principals regarding budget cuts.
“We have conversations with our leadership team every time we have budget shortfalls or have to reduce the budget,” said Hyer.
“When we know that next year’s budget is going to be less than last year’s budget, we meet with the principals and ask them what their priorities are and where they would like to – if we have to – find savings.”
Asked where those savings may come from, secretary-treasurer Kevin Lorenz refused to get into specifics, outside of possibly conserving electricity.
“We have little control over the utility rates that are set, but we can certainly try and make sure the lights are turned off,” said Lorenz. “We’ll be looking at all those options from the first line to the last line of the budget.”
Lorenz also insisted school trust accounts are off-limits – “they’re not something the board would or could take into its operating budget” – and denied the district is even in a deficit situation, contrary to what Palanio said.
“There’s no projected deficit, and the board is not by law allowed to pass a budget with a deficit,” said Lorenz.
As of October, the district was facing a projected $1.15-million shortfall for 2019-20, which included a $370,000 operating deficit and $780,000 in reduced government funding due to an unexpected decrease in enrolment.
Hyer said Tuesday the decreased enrolment amounted to 114 fewer full-time-equivalent students than was projected, which resulted in approximately $1 million less funding than was budgeted.
District administrators must balance the books by Feb. 28, when an amended 2019-20 budget is due to be submitted to the Education Ministry. School districts are required by legislation to maintain balanced budgets.