Saanich schools face budget crunch

A balanced budget using reserves has the Saanich School Board worried about the future as enrolment continues to decline.

In the final stages of the budget process, the board of education presented its budget, and concerns to a couple dozen parents and staff at Bayside middle school.

For 2011/12, Saanich School District will receive funding protection for the decline in enrolment from the Ministry of Education.

“We appreciate the funding protection, but government has indicated that it cannot afford to maintain funding protection over the long term, and we estimate that district enrolment will decline by 694 students between 2011 and 2015 before it levels off at about 6,100 students,” said board chair Helen Parker.

They also used about $1.7 million in reserves, which only adds to the cuts of previous years, explained secretary-treasurer Joan Axford.

“There’s two issues that we face. One is a formula one because we have declining enrolment and the formula takes out too much for each student than what we can reduce in costs. The other is that the cost of public education is increased significantly more than the overall amount of money that the government has available,” Axford said. “In Saanich, since 2006, our revenue has only increased by $3.2 million from the province.”

In November, the Saanich Board of Education established six technical working groups to review all programs and services in Saanich School District. They found that the district spends its funds efficiently and effectively while a gap exists between what the district receives in funding and what is required to fully provide programs and services for students.

“The findings of the working groups confirm that provincial government funding has not kept pace with costs or the needs of students in our system,” said Parker. “The findings also clearly show that the board has made significant adjustments and increased local revenue over the years in order to balance the budget and operate within existing funding levels.”

In recent years School District 63 has made cuts to balance budgets including: reduced teaching staff by 9.5 per cent; approved budget reductions of $8.47 million (12 per cent); completed five school consolidations; introduced a school technology plan with local capital to reduce operating costs; improved facilities for energy cost savings; curtailed the expansion of playgrounds; leased unused space and moved the Sidney learning centre to a closed school.

“We have not been able to reduce enough to cover the fact the cost of public education has gone up over $16.9 million in that same time frame. Government gave us $3 (million) costs went up $16.9 (million),” Axford said. “We have managed to balance, but it’s at significant loss of services to the system.”

The board will hold a special public meeting April 27 to approve the budget which must be submitted to the Ministry of Education by June 30. Provide input through the online survey at www.sd63.bc.ca or email budget@sd63.bc.ca.