Saanich school district’s balanced budget vanishes

School District 63 (Saanich) will meet with education ministry on Thursday to seek help.

School board members and staff of School District 63 (Saanich) are scheduled to meet with the education ministry tomorrow in an attempt to balance the District’s budget.

Board Chair Victoria Martin says they hope to work with the province to find a way to make up for a nearly $1 million shortfall, caused, she said, by the government’s clawback of around $700,000 in administrative savings and an annual $314,000 fee for internet access through a new provincial network. Martin said the District’s old internet access service used to cost $30,000 a year.

Martin and the rest of the board last week issued a media release, calling on the government to return those funds. Without them, Martin said, the board would have to consider staff and program cuts to balance the budget.

“We have just come out of funding protection,” Martin said, referring to a ministry program to provide extra dollars to districts facing declining student enrolment.

“We have a solid surplus of students this year and that would have been good news. The board has done exactly what it had to do to this point, cut staff, closed schools, and here we were, hoping to get back in a balanced budget.”

Martin added the District has, over the last decade, used up most of its $10.2 million surplus. She said the board was forced to use more than $1 million each year to help balance the books — and that has left only $200,000 in surplus funds this year.

“This really should have been a different story this year.”

Faced with cutting teachers, support staff and programs to balance the budget this year, Martin said the board made the move to appeal directly to the province. The loss of the $700,000 in administrative savings and extra network costs of $314,000, means classroom impacts, Martin added.

“We already have the second-highest class sizes in the province,” she said. “This would see that go up even more.”

In making a call to meet with the education minister, the board earned the support of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 441, representing district support staff. As well, the Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils in Saanich (COPACS) echoed the call on the government to return the money.

“It’s time we hold our elected provincial government directly accountable for their decisions,” stated COPACS President James Taylor in a media release.

“We’re at an absolute tipping point, there are no more services we can possibly cut. We’re pleased to see School District 63 take a stand.”