Education dollars good, not enough for Saanich school district

Saanich school district still facing deficit budget despite return of cash by the province.

The school district sold the former McTavish Road school this year. That money will be used for Bayside school’s new roof.

The Saanich school district is getting to keep a portion of the administrative cost savings they found this year — but it’s still not enough to balance their budget.

On Tuesday, B.C.’s education ministry announced they would return $25 million to the province’s school districts. That money was derived from the cuts the government asked districts to make in its administrative costs. School District 63 (Saanich), which runs schools on the Saanich Peninsula, will get to keep $329,000.

That’s only about half of the more than $600,000 in administrative cuts the board was forced to make, says board vice-chair Elsie McMurphy.

“This isn’t new money,” she said. “It was money that was clawed back. While having some of it back is welcome, we are still short in our budget. We will still have to make reductions in services to students.”

McMurphy said that means job cuts among the District’s teachers and support staff.

The Saanich school board in April announced they would not be able to balance their budget after the province asked them to make cuts in administrative costs.

The District found more than $600,000 to meet that goal and were then told they had to pay $314,000 as their share of a provincially-mandated change in a B.C.-wide internet access network for all districts. That meant the Saanich school district was facing a potential $984,000 deficit — not allowed under balanced budget rules.

The board made an appeal for the government to return the funds or change their funding model.

McMurphy said the board met with Education Minister Mike Bernier and had the support of area parent groups and unions. However, there was no change in provincial policy.

She said that the District has, over the last 12 years or so, closed schools. Any budget shortfalls now must be made to staff time and numbers.

The return of some of that money by the province this week creates more uncertainty, she added.

“We’re not sure if this is a one-time thing or if it will happen again in the future. So we can’t bank on it.”

The District board of education was scheduled to meet Wednesday night (June 2) to meet with unions and other stakeholders to discuss budget options. McMurphy said District staff created a draft list of potential cuts last month and those are now up for discussion.

“We’re still facing cuts in teachers and other staff and administrative time. It’s all on the table.”

School districts in B.C. have until June 30 to submit balanced  budgets to the province for approval.