Surrey School Board offices. (File photo)

Surrey school board balances budget for next year, but concerns remain

B.C.’s biggest district plans to hire 66 new teachers, 24 education assistants this fall to handle 850 projected new students

While the Surrey School District’s budget is balanced for the 2018-19 school year, concerns about future years linger.

The district intends to hire 66 new teachers and 24 education assistants to help with the anticipated growth of 850 students next fall.

Also being hired are 28 additional support staff and a new school administrator, after Surrey Board of Education approval on May 9.

Spending in other areas will remain unchanged, despite steady enrolment growth, a district release reveals.

“There is no management or professional staff hiring in the budget,” a media release notes, “with the result that the proportion of spending on district administration will shrink from 2.58 per cent to 2.33 per cent; expected to be the lowest in the province.”

Operating expenses for the 2018-19 school year are expected to rise by about $15 million, due to increased staffing and salary costs, as well as a 2.2 per cent inflationary increase in equipment, supply and services costs. The district also says the net result of the provincial government’s elimination of Medical Services Plan premiums in favour of a new Employer Health Tax will cost $3 million next year.

The budget also includes the district’s contributions to the construction of Salish Secondary ($9.6 million) and a 200-seat addition to Woodward Hill Elementary ($3 million), which are both expected to be ready for students this fall.

In all, it’s expected the Surrey School District will have 73,368 students this September when factoring in school-aged, adult and online students. That figure helps determine how much the district receives from the B.C. government for operating funds. Along with special purpose and other funds, operating funds are anticipated to be $778 million next year.

See more: Surrey school district looking at $8.5M bill for portables this year

See also: Surrey school board says it’s in good financial shape despite $21M shortfall

Surrey Board of Education Budget Committee Chair Terry Allen told the Now-Leader on May 11 that despite the funding and cost pressures, “the district remains in a very strong financial position” but “clearly we’re still concerned about those things that are not being funded. The Employer Health Tax, the $8 million in portables, all of those things are still there. If we didn’t have these fund balances, we could never balance the budget at the end of the year.”

In the 2017-18 school year’s budget, the district faced a $21 million shortfall, which was covered by a “funding balance” from previous years.

According to a Feb. 14 report to the Surrey Board of Education, the “operating fund balance” will be drawn down to $15.1 million on June 30 to cover the $21-million shortfall.

“They call it a surplus, but we call it a funding balance. Without that, we would be having to make cuts – and deep cuts,” stressed Allen.

In mid-April, Allen revealed the district was facing a roughly $8.5 million bill for portables this year.

While the Surrey school district typically spends about $4 million a year to maintain existing portable classrooms, the total bill is expected double.

The $8.5- million figure includes $2.1 million to move 33 portables, $1.2 million for 11 new portables that are needed, and the remaining approximately $5 million is to be spent on maintenance of the existing 325 portables.

On Friday, Allen expressed uncertainty about budgets in future years.

“Our three-year projection is that in this year and the following year, we’re going to look good but in the third year – so that would be 2020 – things are not as good, unless we start to be funded for all of these costs that we’re having to bear,” he revealed.

“Those costs are coming directly out of the classroom, no matter how they want to slice it,” Allen added.

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