Maple Ridge school board passes balanced budget

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Board of Education unanimously passed a balanced budget for the 2012/13 school year Wednesday, avoiding widespread cuts to programs, layoffs and school closures seen in years past to avoid deficits.

Chair Mike Murrary praised the work of the district’s previous boards for making difficult decisions that have allowed the current one  to balance the budget.

Secretary treasurer Wayne Jefferson said the guiding priority of the district’s budget committee was to protect classrooms, something he says was accomplished despite  pressures due to cost of living increases and falling enrollment.

Jefferson credited additional funding from the provincial government for helping the district to balance its budget, in the form of $670,000 in declining enrollment protection funding, as well as $1.4 million from the province’s Learning Improvement Fund.

Despite the new funding, some trustees remained critical of how the provincial government’s funds public education.

“We are underfunded for the way we need to teach kids,” said trustee Susan Carr. “We’ve closed schools, we’ve cut [services]... but should we have had to have taken the drastic measures that we have?”

“We appreciate money is tight, but it’s not enough.”

In all, the school district’s 2012/13 budget totals $145 million, with $110.9 million going towards teacher salaries, down from $111.4 million in 2011/12. A further $4.8 million goes to district administration, while $13.4 million goes to operations and maintenance.

The school district will receive $114.2 million in provincial operating grants for the upcoming school year, down from $115.5 million in 2011/12.

While the district is carrying a $730,000 deficit in its capital accounts due to the amortization of its aging facilities, Jefferson said that will be erased upon approval of the long-awaited elementary school in east Maple Ridge by the provincial government.

“With an election coming up in May, I’m optimistic [the school will be approved],” he said.

In terms of new spending, the budget features increased hours for special education assistants, replacement of worn-out Facilities Department equipment, the purchase of equipment for the district’s Environmental School, as well as the creation of a $1.1 million contingency fund for emergency funding purposes.

While the district is expecting another drop in enrollment next year, specifically at the high school level, Jefferson said that trend is coming to an end.

“We see an end to that in 2015,” he said.

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