SD68 set to deal with further cuts

  • Feb. 4, 2011 7:00 p.m.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District 68 is heading to the drawing board in preparation of their 2011-2012 budget.

Trustee Dot Neary, whose family of schools this year includes Ladysmith’s schools, said the board is staring down the barrel of another year of cuts.

Neary said SD68 will have to cut between $3 to $4 million from their operating budget this year.

“We operate a $125-$126 million operation,” said Neary, noting $4 million may not sound like a lot to cut, but is equivalent to around three per cent.

Part of the reason for those cuts is due to less students in seats.

Neary said the district is forecasting around 200 less students in the system for the year.

“That will take care of some of the shortfall … the demand on service, in theory, reduces.”

But, she added, the district faces other pressures including inflation, carbon offsets, transportation and MSP payment to name a few.

“All of those things add up.”

Last year, the district was forced to trim $2.1 from its budget.

Neary said the board has an lot to consider as budgeting is a complex process and emotions can run hot when it comes to education.

“I think it’s going to be a very difficult process this year.”

The budgeting process is in the preliminary stages right now, but the pace will be picking up, including the planning for public input.

Neary noted a budget is like a living document.

“You set your budget and immediately, the day after, it’s out of date. There are different variables that come into play.

“But the bottom line is we know we have significantly less money coming in this coming year than we had last year.”

Neary said the budgeting process is frustrating for everyone involved, including parents.

“When parents have children in the schools and they are faced with the possibility that there might be service cuts that affect their children directly, then they’re very concerned about that.”

Reducing the budget means cuts to service and jobs, noted Neary, adding 90 per cent of the budget is salaries and benefits.

“It’s a very uncomfortable position to be in,” she said.

While they try to keep cuts away from the classrooms, Neary noted any cuts from teachers to janitorial staff, has an affect on students.

Neary said it is easy to get caught up in the doom-and-gloom scenario of constantly dropping revenue.

However, she said there are positives to focus on, such as the quality of education in the district.

“Our education system is a strong education system. Our teaching staff, our employees in general, are very high-quality, professional people who deliver a fantastic service, but they do so under huge pressure.”

In terms of school infrastructure, some schools are getting older. A few are in need of seismic upgrades, but those are submitted on a project-to-project basis.

One project that has been submitted to the government for funding is the replacement and expansion of the Ecole Davis Rd. School.

Neary said a dedicated group brought French Immersion to the school and the increasingly popular program has outgrown its current confines.

“It’s outgrown that school. There is overcrowding there,” said Neary.

Since the application was submitted in October, the B.C. government has had a bit of a shake up in the Ministry of Education and Neary doesn’t know how long the process will take and when they will receive an answer.