School board passes 2014/2015 budget, eliminates $8 million deficit

SURREY — An $8 million hole in the school district’s budget has been plugged by the Surrey Board of Education, allowing them to pass the next year’s education budget. While half of that deficit was made up by about $4 million that was leftover in unspent funds from the previous year, trustees were faced with finding an additional $4 million in the existing $588 million budget.

According to budget committee chair and trustee Terry Allen, that figure was found primarily by cutting back on support staff hours and department supply budgets.

“I would say that it’s probably somewhere in the region of 20 support staff across the district,” he said. “Now that doesn’t mean they’re actually bodies but the hours add up to 20 individuals.”

Support staff includes custodians, educational assistants and maintenance workers.

As for supply funds within the district, Allen said those were trimmed “to the bare bones.

“We allocate supply budgets to each department but I would say that they’ve been drastically slashed,” he said.  “An almost $8 million deficit is hard to find, but you’re dealing with a budget of more than half-a-billion dollars so if you put it in perspective, it’s bad but it could have been a hell of a lot worse.”

Prior to the passing of the budget, trustees were faced with having to find some way of making up the deficit and some parents were concerned that those cuts would be coming from school programs. In May board vice-chair Laurie Larsen said that some “tough decisions” were going to have to be made and that programs could be impacted.

However, Allen said that thankfully didn’t end up being the case.

“Trustees have a huge commitment to the programs in this district and the trustees made it quite clear to me as budget chair that it couldn’t be programs unless there could be no other choice,” he said. “So they were never put on the table. $8 million is a lot of money but it’s not as devastating as it’s been for districts like Coquitlam and New Westminster.”

Other items in the budget include increasing trustee’s honorariums by $600 for the year, which comes a year after they lowered them by $200.

Trustee Charlene Dobie said she was the lone voice in voting against the motion, saying that it was inappropriate to increase honorariums during such tough financial times.

“This money, no matter how insignificant in the big picture, should be used for education – not to bolster our pay,” she said. “There are many classrooms in this district that could use this money to augment the learning. This money should be spent on the children in our district.”

Trustees currently receive $30,200 a year for their role.

Board chair Shawn Wilson said the figure is looked at every year and compared to the Consumer Price Index as per board policy, and adjusted as such each June.

“It’s always tied to the CPI in Vancouver, so that guides us every year,” said Wilson. “Last year the CPI went down and there was a reduction in it. It’s one of those things that are sometimes taken out of context but if CPI goes down then we lower it.”

Finally, Wilson admitted that with the ongoing teacher strike, there was a chance that the board may have to revisit the next school year’s budget as some expected revenues may not end up coming in.

“International education could be a problem,” he said. “International students are probably already on the way and that’s in jeopardy. It could be a bit of a problem for some school districts, especially West Vancouver that totally depends on international students to balance their budget. We could probably survive without it but it’s more stress.”

Currently, revenue from international students for the 2014/2015 school year is budgeted at $9.1 million.

The other main item is summer school, which might only bring in $138,500, but is revenue nonetheless.

“That’s sad because there are a lot of people that look forward to the remedial support,” said Wilson. “As well, a lot of teachers their pay is also affected. They like teaching in the summer because that’s a pretty good pay bonus for them, so it’s stressful for everyone.”

Twitter @Questionchris

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