Despite the looming closures of three facilities, the Okanagan Skaha School District is still forecasting a $292,000 deficit in its 2016-17 budget.
“It’s been an extremely difficult year and heartbreaking decisions had to be made,” trustee Ginny Manning said Wednesday night, prior to the public unveiling of the budget, which comes on the heels of a five-month process to close of Trout Creek and West Bench elementaries and McNicoll Park Middle School as of June 30.
All told, the 2016-17 budget projects operating expenses at $54.7, down from $56.7 million this year.
The decrease is necessary due in large part to a $764,000 funding reduction from the B.C. government thanks to declining enrolment.
To help ease that pressure, the district expects to save $1.2 million from the pending – but disputed – school closures, plus another $540,000 through decreased contributions to teacher pension plans.
Staff has proposed four recommendations for closing the $292,000 deficit that’s left, including chopping the full amount from operating costs or cutting just $42,000 and making up the balance from reserves or a possible 2015-16 surplus.
Because $42,000 represents just a fraction of the total operating budget, it could be cut “without too much impact,” explained secretary-treasurer Bonnie Roller Routley, but chopping the full $292,000 would be felt more deeply.
“That is potentially three teachers. That is potentially six education assistants or more,” she said.
As it stands, total spending on teachers is project to slide to $23.9 million, down from $25 million this year. About half of the decrease comes from a housekeeping change in budgeting procedure, according to Roller Routley, while the balance will come from school closures.
At the same time, the cost of top district administrators is expected to climb by about $8,000 to $825,000, while spending on principals and vice-principals is pegged to drop by $129,000 due to the closures, for which a separate $50,000 has been set aside for possible legal challenges.
The proposed budget has already been presented to staff groups and public input is now being accepted.
The board is expected to decide how it will bridge the deficit at a special closed-door meeting May 2, then give the budget preliminary approval at its May 9 public meeting. Final approval is tentatively scheduled for the June 13 board meeting.
That could all change May 9, however, when the board is also set to revisit its earlier decision to close West Bench and Trout Creek schools, thanks to a motion to reconsider that will be put forward by trustee Bruce Johnson.
About 80 per cent of district spending goes directly to classroom instruction, 15 per cent goes to operations and maintenance, with the balance split between transportation, administration and capital purchases.