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SD 42 was wrong about extra funding

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The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district won’t be getting an extra $146,000 in funding from the province this year after all, say senior staff.

The money was part of a $210,000 disbursement from the provincial government last month the district thought was additional funding. As it turns out, the province was merely handing out funding already promised to the district, called a holdback payment, a month earlier.

“We thought we were dealing with new cash, actually it was just our cash sent out early,” said secretary treasurer Wayne Jefferson.

Normally the holdback funds are released at the end of June, however, Jefferson said the Ministry opted to release a portion of the money early to help districts pay for the increased cost of insuring school facilities.

“This won’t affect the budget,” said Jefferson. “We will still have a small surplus at the end of the [school] year.”

Jefferson said he expects this year’s surplus to be around $250,000, which is a drop in the bucket of the district’s $130 million annual budget.

“If we would have had a big snowfall, we’d have struggled [to balance the budget],” Jefferson said.

The district is facing a $2.2 million shortfall for next year’s budget, however.

The district is expecting a $750,000 drop in revenue next year due largely to a reduction in provincial funding, as well as an $1.5 million increase in costs from pensions, MSP premiums, and holiday pay.

Staff have suggested more than 40 cost-saving measures to help balance the budget, including cutting the elementary school band teacher position, increasing class sizes at the secondary and intermediate levels, cutting special education, reducing services and supplies by two per cent, and reducing clerical hours.

School board trustees will vote on the district’s 2011/12 budget at their next meeting on Tuesday, June 28.

The district received some positive news from the provincial government this month, however, on the announcement that provincial auditors would be slashing the bill it gave to the district last month.

The five-person provincial audit team found the district had double-billed the province for online courses taken by local students. Auditors originally requested the district pay back $73,000 in funds, however, the province has since reduced that bill to $44,000.

“This is a big deal, because this hardly ever happens,” said school superintendent Jan Unwin. “

The provincial government reduced the amount owing because the district is struggling to deal with falling enrolment and falling revenue, said Jefferson.

School District No. 42 had to pay back close to $100,000 in February after the province audited the district’s special education program.

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