‘Window of opportunity’ for Nanaimo-Ladysmith trustees to save money

School trustees have a “window of opportunity” this year to make some money-saving changes to the district’s budget.

School trustees have a “window of opportunity” this year to make some money-saving changes to the district’s budget before major funding shortfalls are likely, predicts the district’s secretary-treasurer.

Phil Turin delivered a three-year budget forecast to School District 68 trustees at the business committee meeting Wednesday.

Using the latest enrolment forecast numbers – which predicts decreasing enrolment in the next three years – and an estimator tool provided by the Education Ministry to help districts navigate funding formula changes announced last December, he estimates the district will be short about $733,000 from a balanced budget next year.

The estimator tool indicates that the district’s transportation budget will decrease slightly, but that it will happen gradually over two years, said Turin.

Even more importantly, he said the district’s funding protection grant – given to districts such as Nanaimo experiencing declining enrolment – will likely go down by 1.5 per cent each year, as the province has decided to lower the amount from 100 per cent of the previous autumn’s funding level to at least 98.5 per cent.

Finally, despite the ministry’s announcement of additional funding for districts where the number of vulnerable students has increased, Turin said the estimator doesn’t anticipate any additional money coming to Nanaimo in this category, which surprised most trustees at the meeting.

“I was surprised,” he said, adding that the forecast is just a preliminary estimate, as the province will not announce the grants until next month.

“Estimates are up and down just like budgets,” said Turin. “When we get the grant, we’ll know more.”

He told trustees that the significant thing to note is a worsening of the district’s budget situation over the next three years, as the funding protection grant and transportation supplement goes down.

The deficit for 2013-14 is estimated at just over $2 million and more than $3.3 million for 2014-15.

“This year won’t be as difficult as last year,” said Turin. “We’re less than a million according to this. We have probably a window of opportunity for the next year to do some things, make some changes.”