For the first time in recent memory, the Delta School District is looking at a budget recommendation that balanced itself.
With no anticipated job losses as a result of the budget, and even a small surplus, district secretary-treasurer Nicola Christ said it was “a much better news budget than we had anticipated.”
“Since I have worked in the position of director of finance [which she started in 2007], we had one easier year,” she said. “The rest all had shortfalls or more significant shortfalls.”
The district has faced many shortfalls in its past budgets — last year the district was down $2.017 million — but for 2018/2019 it is looking at a small surplus of $57,000 for its $155.6 million budget.
This, Christ said, is due to a number of factors.
One of these is the $2.574 million increase in the district’s operating grant from the Ministry of Education, due in large part to a $122 increase in per-student funding. Money for students with special needs designations has also increased by about 1.7 per cent, Christ said.
The district is anticipating about 50 more students to enter Delta’s school system next year, as well as an increase in students with special needs designations.
“That’s due in part to enrollment, but it’s also due to us having been able to apply greater rigour to the processes that result in designations for students,” Christ said.
Though she didn’t know exactly how many students with special needs would be entering the district, Christ said the anticipated increase in funding would be around $815,000.
The double-edged sword that has also helped balance the upcoming budget is reductions in MSP and the corresponding introduction of the Employers Health Tax, colloquially known as the payroll tax.
For the 2018/2019 year, MSP rates will be at 50 per cent of what they were previously, bringing the district an anticipated savings of $792,000. However, the payroll tax will also be introduced on Jan. 1, 2019, which will create a $1.344 million drain on the budget.
This is the reason employee benefit increases are expected to match salary increases for the 2018/2019 year. Normally, Christ said, benefit increases only reach about 30 per cent of salary increases. (Next year’s salary increases will largely be because of pay raises included in the teachers’ collective agreement and new staff hires.)
In the 2017/2018 school year, the district paid about $1.6 million for MSP. In 2018/2019, that was reduced to half, but an additional $1.344 million was added for the payroll tax.
“The net impact of the employer health tax and the MSP savings leaves us having to pay $500,000, give or take, more than in the prior year,” she said.
This payroll tax is expected to increase to $2.1 million in 2019/2020 as the full program is rolled out. However, MSP is still going to be on the table, resulting in a major impact on the district’s budget. It won’t be until 2020/2021 that the full benefits of the MSP cut will be felt.
“From my perspective, I need to be careful,” Christ said. “The budget for 2019/2020 will see the full impact of the employer health tax, but at the same time we will not have received the full impact of the MSP savings … That will be a more expensive year for us.”
Additional uncertainly for the 2018/2019 budget comes from the provincial government’s class size enhancement funding.
Currently, the Delta School District is set to receive $5.159 million, which Christ notes is not sufficient to cover Delta’s teacher staffing needs, although it likely won’t result in a reduction of teachers.
However, this money is only the first of three stages. More money is expected in early summer and the winter of 2018, based on a demonstrated need by the district.
“What they’re struggling with is coming up with what the true cost is, the true amount of funding that any one district needs,” Christ said about the Ministry of Education. “So it’s almost in anticipation of getting more information that they’ve given us a little bit of money, but not the full amount.”
Although the budget ended up balanced without program or staffing cuts, the district wanted to see where they could get more value for its dollar.
“While we were waiting for the funding announcement to come in, we looked for ways in which we could balance the budget because we did not know what the funding announcement would be,” Christ said. “When we found that our budget was largely balanced, we felt we could continue to keep those reductions that we had found … and redirect them to the areas of greatest need for our students.”
The district is proposing just over $140,000 in cuts to the school board office and education programs, as well as a $772,000 increase in revenue from the international student program and $86,000 from the continuing education program. (The net revenue of the international program is currently between $5 and $6 million.)
“It’s a very volatile area, as a funding source that we only rely on very cautiously,” Christ said. “But we have observed trends over a period of time, and we felt the $772,000 was an amount we could add without any significant risk.”
This year, there are around 700 full-time equivalent students in the international program. (There are more physical students, but some are only in Delta seasonally.)
These cuts and projected increases equal almost $1 million in funding and that, along with $400,000 from reserves, is what the district is hoping to allocate to staffing and special education.
Currently, the district is planning to support 1.75 full-time equivalent trades staff in the facilities department and eight full-time teachers. It’s also planning to provide just over $500,000 to the inclusive education department.
This funding will allow the department to purchase equipment or hire staff for wherever it determines is most needed. This could include education assistants, counsellors or support teachers, among others.
“We want to make sure that we provide for the greatest need,” Christ said.
The proposed budget will be discussed at the upcoming school board meeting on Tuesday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the school board office (4585 Harvest Drive).