School cuts eyed to make up $1.4 million deficit

Nanaimo school district is looking at a number of ways to make up an estimated $1.4-million deficit.

Nanaimo school district is looking at a number of ways to make up an estimated $1.4-million deficit.

Cutting five days from the school calendar, eliminating elementary-level child, youth and family support workers and reducing education assistants are some of the suggestions from district staff.

At a special business committee meeting Wednesday, staff presented 18 budget proposals that would balance the books next year.

“In the end, all these reductions will have a negative impact on students,” said superintendent Mike Munro.

On the bright side, said secretary-treasurer Phil Turin, an unanticipated increase in funding from the province – announced March 11 – means much fewer reductions are necessary.

“We were at a $5.7-million shortfall,” he said.

The biggest money-saving item is extending spring break to two weeks and adding minutes to each day to make up for the lost days.

Trustees had planned to make a decision on the calendar change Monday, but instead decided to include it in the general budget process.

This year’s extended spring break saved the district $448,000 so far, said Turin. He expects further reductions in replacement costs due to the extra week will bring that total up to the estimated $500,000 savings by the end of the year.

Almost 1,700 people responded to the district’s school calendar survey, with 59.7 per cent in favour of a two-week spring break, 36.7 per cent opposed and 3.8 per cent neutral.

Other strategies include: reductions to school-level administrators, education assistants, child, youth and family support workers, secondary school librarians and custodians; eliminating the therapeutic swim program for students with special needs; increasing rental rates; and eliminating bus service from Harewood to Quarterway Elementary School.

Management also proposes a reorganization of CommunityLINK spending – a grant of about $2.2 million used to support vulnerable students.

That strategy would cut several more child, youth and family support worker positions and reduce the hours of community school coordinators to pay for a new primary learning project and a part-time supervisor for community schools programs.

Bob Esliger, district principal of student support services, said management proposes to remove child, youth and family support workers from elementary schools altogether, which means elementary school counsellors would assume their workloads.

There’s a bit of overlap in the duties of counsellors and youth workers and if the district cannot have both due to financial pressures, staff felt services should be preserved for students before families, he said.

“It will be a huge reduction in service,” said Esliger. “Saying whether it’s a good idea or not is not part of the conversation.”

The new primary project would focus on academic and social learning vulnerabilities of primary students and would include a full-time primary coordinator and about $100,000 in supplies and teaching release time.

Munro said staff believe the project focuses resources in the most effective way possible because learning to read is key to academic success.

“Give me $4 million and I will do it all,” he added.

Trustees had many questions about individual strategies – especially cuts to child, youth and family support workers, the CommunityLINK reorganization and the increased square footage per custodian.

Rob Zver, president of CUPE local 606, said almost all the cuts impact support workers – less than two administrative positions would be cut and teachers actually gai three-quarters of a position, while CUPE would lose 12 full-time equivalent positions.

“We’re definitely paying a huge amount of the possible deficit,” he said.


Public consultation

The public is invited to give Nanaimo school trustees feedback on the proposed 2011-12 budget on Monday (April 11).

The meeting takes place in the Nanaimo District Secondary School gymnasium at 6 p.m. Anyone wishing to make presentations are asked to please contact Cathy Kelt at 250-741-5238 or by noon Friday (April 8).

Trustees will discuss the budget strategies again on Wednesday (April 13) at the District Administration Centre on Wakesiah Avenue at 6 p.m.


Budget strategies proposed

u $500,000 – continue with two-week spring break in 2011-12

u $59,244 – reduce two full-time principal/vice-principal positions (net reduction after teaching time added back to budget)

u $100,000 – change education assistant staffing ratio

u $120,918 – reduce child, youth and family support workers in Student Support Services

u $92,376 – cancel therapeutic swim program

u $124,956 – reduction in secondary teacher staffing for courses outside of the regular timetable

u $48,752 – reduce early years coordinator position to less than half-time

u $49,632 – reduce spending on district equipment

u $14,000 – using electronic media instead of print for some communications materials

u $20,000 – eliminate grant writer funding

u $149,063 – transfer of operating tradespersons to annual facilities grant projects

u $72,959 – increase square footage per custodian

u $70,000 – reduce information systems spending

u $7,000 – eliminate the Harewood to Quarterway Elementary School bus route

u $6,600 – eliminate bus for therapeutic swim program

u $12,500 – increase in rental rates

u $0 – reorganization of CommunityLINK

u $0 – secondary school library staffing changes (decrease teacher-librarian time and increase library clerk time)