SD42 trustees expecting bad news budget

Cash-strapped educators are again anticipating a tough budget process for the 2014-2015 school year.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district heard another bad news report from secretary treasurer Flavia Coughlan at its Wednesday night meeting, as she warned trustees to expect more budget cuts.

“The precise magnitude of the shortfall cannot be accurately determined for the 2014/2015 operating grant is announced by the Ministry of Education on March 15,” she said.

Once the amount of funding is revealed next month, district staff will have until June 30 to submit a balanced budget back to the ministry.

Last year, that was a daunting task. As costs increased and the district’s enrollment fell, the board had to trim $5.6 million from its operating budget of approximately $130 million. However, the ministry made more funds available as the year progressed.

The board’s total annual budget for this school year, including operating and capital expenses, is $144 million. The board’s operating expenses are $127 million, and $114,000 is for staff salaries and benefits.

Trustee Ken Clarkson asked Coughlan why, if the already trimmed budget is expected to be balanced this year, the board should expect a shortfall again next year.

She answered that staff will receive salary increments, there will be inflationary increases in supplies, services and utilities, and the board must find money to fund recently negotiated CUPE increases on an ongoing basis.

The board approved a budget timeline that includes consulting with partner groups, followed by input from those groups and the public on April 16 at Maple Ridge secondary.

On the bright side, the board’s per pupil funding is on the upswing, according to predictions.

The board looked at enrollment and budget projections for next year, and predicts that enrollment will again drop by 94 full-time equivalents (eight courses). The breakdown is an increase of 80 elementary students, but a drop of 174 secondary school FTEs. That will be 13,270.25 FTE regular school-age students.

It is estimated that the decline in enrollment will continue again for the following year, but just a drop of 37 students, and then stabilize in 2016/17. That would end 12 years of falling student numbers.

“These are just best estimates – a lot of things can change before September,” said Coughlan.

“It’s really good to see things are leveling off,” said board chair Mike Murray. “Considering we are funded based on that [enrollment], that’s helpful.”

These enrollment number are used by the Education Ministry to calculate operating grants, which will be announced by March 15.

Financial statements for the present budget year showed all expenditures and revenues are trending within budget.

Clarkson noted that the budget process is made more difficult by the provincial government not offering consistent, predictable funding.

“Trustees, and this board included, have long been asking government to stabilize funding systems,” he said.

Murray agreed the province needs a “better mousetrap.”

“It’s hard to do budgeting when you’re not sure what will be afforded to you every year.”


For the record

The approved Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board remuneration policy does not provide an automatic annual increase for trustees.

It only outlines the processes by which the board considers trustee remuneration.

Trustee remuneration may be adjusted for a cost of living adjustment on July 1 of each year.

Incorrect information appeared in the Feb. 7 edition of The News, “CUPE bristles as trustees take cost-of-living increase.”


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