In this December 2018 photo, Okanagan Skaha School District trustees pose for a group photo. Front row, from left, Barb Sheppard, Tracy Van Raes and vice-chair Shelley Clarke. Back row, superintendent Wendy Hyer (off sick), chair James Palanio, Dave Stathers, Linda Van Alpen, Kathy Pierre and secretary-treasurer Kevin Lorenz (off sick).

Faced with an even bigger projected enrolment decline than last year, School District 67 trustees on Monday night gave tentative approval to a 2020-21 budget that cuts payroll by $2.5 million.

“Limited dollars, difficult decisions, but the collaborative approach ended up with this result,” said board chairman James Palanio.

The biggest cuts approved by a unanimous vote are 15 full-time-equivalent teachers, three FTE jobs in the operations and maintenance department, 2.5 FTE education assistants and 1.4 FTE administrators at the board office.

Most of the other proposed cuts are partial reductions of 0.5 FTE or less.

“We went a little deeper into operations and maintenance, and tried to protect some of the teaching resources,” explained Eileen Sadlowski, a financial consultant hired to help with the 2020-21 budget.

Of the 15 lost teaching jobs, she added, “We’re pretty confident that the positions will be able to be removed through attrition…. No one will find themselves out of a job with the school district.”

Trustees expressed concerns about the loss of the education assistants and a 0.5 FTE reduction to the program for gifted students, but praised the open and collaborative approach taken to develop the budget, including an online survey and presentations to partner groups.

“This is not an easy thing to ever look at cuts, however, I have full confidence in our team here, and with the extra communication and transparency… I feel like the process was the best it could be,” said Trustee Tracy Van Raes

Trustee Dave Stathers noted the cuts are spread across all employee groups.

“It’s fair, and stakeholders had a big say,” said Stathers.

The cuts are based on a projected enrolment decline of 187 FTE domestic students and 50 international students. Combined with a loss of 110 loss this year, that would equal a drop of nearly 350 FTE students in just two years, representing about a 5% decline.

The enrolment decline is steep enough that School District 67 is now in funding protection with the Ministry of Education, meaning operating revenue won’t drop in tandem.

Still, the total budget for 2020-21 is projected to shrink to $71.1 million from $73.4 million this year.

Trustees are expected to adopt the budget at their next meeting, June 22.

The board voted to hire Sadlowski and another outside expert in February due to concerns about a lack of communication and transparency on the part of top district administrators.

A day later, superintendent Wendy Hyer and secretary-treasurer Kevin Lorenz went on medical leave, and have now been away for three months.