Recent History – 2002
April 18, 2002
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
Peace River South school district trustees passed a balanced preliminary budget Wednesday for the 2001-02 school year, but not without making some sacrifices.
Caught between rising costs, due largely to salary hikes that remain unfunded by the province, and falling revenue, caused by declining enrolment, trustees adopted a budget totalling slightly less than $38.3 million, and with it, a 13-point plan to cut $1.9 million.
School board chair Wayne Ezeard said that as a result of deliberations, trustees adopted “the best of the worst scenarios” presented by administration.
“But you don’t deal with a $1.9 million deficit by tickling the budget,” Ezeard said. “You go in with a broad-axe and unfortunately that’s what we had to do.”
The schools themselves will be asked to find a total of $904,000 in savings thorough adjustments or reductions to services, programs and staffing levels.
The number of district-based support teachers will be reduced to save $286,000, and another $141,000 in transportation and custodial costs will be cut by reducing the number of days that school is in session while extending the hours of each school day to meet Ministry of Education requirements.
Another $121,000 will come from combining elective funding, used for such items as trips to Gwillim Lake and bringing in theatre groups, with the per pupil allocation that each school will get.
District-level administrative staffing will also be adjusted and reduced to save $100,000, and $50,000 will be saved by applying service sharing revenue to the operating account.
School district funding for the Grandview facility, which houses the Kiwanis Arts Centre, will also be pulled, while a new home will be found for the alternative secondary school program also found at Grandview and administered through South Peace Secondary School.
Possibly the most controversial is a proposal to close Kelly Lake Elementary School for a further $50,000 savings. But trustees won’t make a final decision until the end of the school year and only after meeting with parents and teachers in Kelly Lake.
The budget for psychological and educational assessments will be reduced by $40,000, point-to-point bussing within the city will be discontinued for $33,000, and one custodial position will be eliminated for $30,000.
In respect to busing, director of operations Sam Barber said it effectively means that there will no longer be school buses for students living north of Alaska Avenue attending South Peace Secondary School and Central Middle School. However, he said that the school district will ask the city if Dawson Creek’s public transit system could fill in the gap.
Rental revenue from Tumbler Ridge housing, totalling $25,500, will be applied for the operating account, and the school district will no longer cover the cost of maintaining and operating Claude Galibois Elementary in Tumbler Ridge, for $25,000 in savings.
Following the closure of the Bullmoose mine, students no longer attend the school, although community groups have been using the building, particularly the gym on weekends.
As a show of support, trustees also voted to skip a cost of living increase for their stipends. And dates for public meetings in Dawson Creek, Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge will be set within the next week or so, where details of the cuts will be fleshed out. Trustees will also meet with parent advisory councils to discuss the budget.
Enrolment is forecast to decline by 1.5 per cent for each of the next two years, while school districts will be forced to pay the 2.5 per cent hikes in the second and third years of the teachers contract. The district must also meet increases in benefits and other salaries.
Also, a special transition grant of $673,000 available to the district for the coming school year is also expected to disappear in the near future.
Along with continuing a tradition of passing balanced budgets, trustees were also intent on keeping the contingency fund at about $500,000 for such emergencies as unexpected increases in the cost of natural gas or propane.
It was originally expected that the shortfall would amount to $1.5 million for 2002-03 and $1.6 million for 2003-04. But thanks to simplifications such as less targeted funding, school boards have had greater flexibility to deal with lower revenue.
A final budget will be passed after September 30. Attendance on that day is used to determine the per-pupil allotment each school district will get.