SD 67 bus

The School District 67 board is considering charging students to ride the bus.

Local school principals have once again been asked to slash their budgets and even prepare to hand over money held in trust accounts – including donations, student fees and proceeds from fundraisers – to help the district balance its budget, The Herald has learned.

Multiple sources confirmed the Okanagan Skaha School District in recent weeks has asked principals for proposals to cut 15% from their regular funding and 15% from their school trust accounts to come up with a total of $377,000 to offset a projected deficit in the 2019-20 budget.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they’ve been ordered by the district not to discuss the matter publicly.

Kevin Lorenz, the district’s secretary-treasurer, refused to even address questions from The Herald.

“The board will be considering the revised budget on Feb. 24 at its open board meeting,” Lorenz wrote in an email.

“Hope to see you there.”

Trustee James Palanio, who chairs the school board, said he’s aware of concerns about possible budget cuts and is looking into the matter.

Kevin Epp, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union, said he’s hearing concerns from teachers throughout the district because they’re worried the cuts will ultimately result in fewer services and resources for kids.

Of particular concern to him is the threat to school trust accounts, which are filled with money paid to the schools for things like textbook deposits, graduation fees, field trip registrations and proceeds from fundraisers.

"If this is in fact happening, there should be outrage. Money handed to the school by families should never be taken and used for school district operations,” said Epp.

“Those accounts are referred to as trust accounts because the money is held... and people trust it will be there, not siphoned off to balance the books."

The latest attempt at slashing expenses comes after an earlier round of cuts in September during which the district reduced schools’ supply budgets by 33% to $1.4 million; clawed back $100,000 for professional development; and eliminated a $300 allotment for each international student at a school. Some programs were also scrapped, including one that introduced high school students to the trades.

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. 

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.