$6 million shortfall for SD42

Parents asked to take online survey about cuts in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District

The Ridge Meadows School Board is facing a budget shortfall that could be as high as $6 million.

“It could be a challenging year for us,” said chairman Mike Murray after Wednesday’s night’s regular meeting.

The total school board budget is about $129 million, so the board will need to cut costs and/or increase revenue sources.

On Thursday morning the board posted a survey on its website, to receive input as to where parents and other stakeholders in education place their spending priorities, and get suggestions as to what costs could be cut.

“We’re hoping to get as much input from as many groups as we possibly can,” said superintendent Jan Unwin.

The online posting also offers information about where the district is seeing its budget pressures for 2013-2014.

It will be online until about March 14. Ministry funding will be announced by March 15, the operating grant, and the budgeting process will be done in April.

Murray explained that the board had a slight surplus from 2011-2012 which it used to balance the last budget, or there would have been a shortfall of almost a half-million.

Unlike municipal governments, which can raise taxes to cover costs, school districts are required by the School Act to operate with a balanced budget.

The budget pressure is coming from a number of sources.

As with many Lower Mainland communities, enrollment has been in steady decline – more than 1,000 students in just a decade in this district alone. In 2003-2004 there were 15,051 students. Projections for 2013-2014 are 13,823. There will be about 200 fewer students next year, and that will mean $1.6 million less in ministry per-pupil funding.

And there is no end in sight. Declining enrollment is projected to continue dropping for each of the two subsequent years as well.

The teachers pension plan has an added $930,000 in costs. The conversion from HST back to the PST and GST will cost the district $250,000. Inflation and salary increments are other pressures.

Murray said the entire financial picture is not yet known, and $6 million is the worst-case scenario.

“Our hope is that it’s not as serious as the most conservative number,” he said.

He noted that the last time the board had to cut about $2 million from its budget there were school closures.

School closures are mentioned in the website, as are administration cuts, reduced use of technology in schools, new public-private partnerships and numerous other measures. Those taking the questionnaire are asked to rank these proposals in order of their priorities.

Unwin said the goal has to be to balance the budget while maintaining school programs.

“Let’s get a context and remember why we’re in this business – it’s the kids,” said Unwin.

SD42 isn’t the only Metro Vancouver school district facing a budget crunch. New Westminster has a $2.2 million shortfall, while neighbouring SD43 in Coquitlam is short $7.5-million deficit and is making $5 million in non-staff cuts to whittle it down.

SURVEY

SD42 wants you to participate by completing the online budget survey . Your participation will help ensure that budget priorities encompass the most pressing needs of our school district.