School trustees approve budget

Cuts to services and positions and moving students around are all strategies to balance the books in Nanaimo school district.

Cuts to services and positions, and moving students around, are all strategies staff and trustees used to balance the books in Nanaimo school district’s 2013-14 budget.

Trustees finalized next year’s $133.7-million budget at a special meeting Wednesday evening, after spending the past few weeks debating cuts proposed by staff to make up for a $4.7-million shortfall. District staff had previously identified $2 million in savings from this year’s and last year’s budgets, including a $1-million clawback to supplies and services budgets this year, but staff still had to find an additional $2.7 million.

“Everything’s tight – staffing is tight, supplies are tight,” said Jamie Brennan, school board chairman. “We’re just going to have to be very cautious and vigilant.”

Two dozen proposed budget cuts totalling $2.7 million were debated, and trustees approved the majority of the cuts, except for the proposal to move English-stream students from Davis Road Elementary School – the $107,000 staff expected to save will be taken out of supplies budgets – and the proposal to close the print shop was changed to require the service to operate on a cost recovery basis by charging schools for labour as well as for supplies.

The finalized budget results in a net loss of nine teachers and seven support staff.

More than $2 million of the proposed cuts come from instructional services: closing the District Resource Centre at the old Dufferin Crescent school site; moving English stream students at Quarterway Elementary School to neighbouring schools; moving junior learning alternative students back to catchment-area schools; and elimination of the gifted/enrichment resource teacher, two behaviour resource teachers, the safe schools coordinator and the early years coordinator.

Staff anticipate the overall impact of the position cuts and moving students will be be neutral because of the new learning services teams implemented this year – four multi-disciplinary teams to help teachers who request additional support.

Brennan said trustees requested a report be brought forward in the fall exploring the effectiveness of the teams.

“We’ve made a considerable investment in them and we want to ensure that investment pays off,” he said.

Brennan is also concerned about the strategy of moving some staffing costs out of the operating budget and into special purpose accounts – staff recommend paying for two support workers, a half-time vision resource teacher and three additional elementary counsellors out of the CommunityLINK fund, a special grant given to districts to support vulnerable students. This move meant the amount of money given to schools to provide food and other support declined.

He said the district needs to keep a close eye on what is happening in schools to ensure students are getting fed and the board may have to reach out to the community for help.

On the operational side, one of the last cuts to be recommended by trustees for inclusion in the budget was the elimination of two caretaker positions.

Brennan said some trustees were opposed to the cut because a recent review of custodial services determined that school janitors are already performing at their peak and any additional workload would be difficult for them to take on.

Mike Ball, first vice-president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said the union is disappointed the district did not consider administrative cutbacks – early in the process, trustee Nancy Curley asked staff to look into a two per cent wage cut for all non-unionized employees, but staff determined that this was not feasible from a legal standpoint.

He said trustees also lost an opportunity for savings by not continuing to negotiate with the NDTA to extend spring break to two weeks – negotiation was necessary because it would have meant adding minutes to each school day to make up for the extra week off.

Trustees reverted to a one-week spring break after the teachers’ union turned down the district’s offer Monday – the deadline for an agreement.

Union officials stated it did not include enough money to fully compensate those teachers who would be affected and submitted a counter-proposal the next day.

Jeff Virtanen, treasurer of CUPE Local 606, the union that represents the district’s support workers, also expressed disappointment that front line workers are taking the hit in the finalized budget.

He said while the jobs of people in direct support of students are being eliminated, the district is spending money on a new logo and consultants and the management structure is ballooning.