COLUMN: Coping with school finances

The 2015-2016 school year could be argued as being the most controversial of any in recent history.

The 2015-2016 school year could be argued as being the most controversial of any in recent history for all involved in the “school closure and reconfiguration” process for the Okanagan Skaha School District.

However, it was apparent that over a 10-month period those who initially knew very little about a school district’s budgetary process became aware of the untenable position that the school district was in for the 2016-2017 budget year.

Most individuals came to understand that although the budget from all sources seemed extremely large in comparison to municipal budgets; 86 per cent of this amount was allocated to salaries and benefits for the district’s 800 employees.

Also recognized was that the sum total of the operating grant was directly related to enrolment decline through a per pupil funding model which due to funding protection, reduces annually by 1.5 per cent of the total grant.

While the District’s School Closure and Reconfiguration process consumed an enormous amount of time and energy for all; staff and trustees alike, it was business as usual.

With the approval of the board; administration and staff members were successful in applying for and implementing the following targeted Grants or Funds:

o Summerland Middle school – $219,300.00 for a dust collection unit

o Summerland Secondary School – $1,115,000.00 for Roof replacement and exterior upgrades

o Penticton Secondary School – $125,000.00 Solar Panel System

o Early Years Grant – In partnership with P.D.C.R.S. to fund an Early Years Centre Coordinator to support families in Summerland, Kaleden, Naramata and Penticton  $52,417.

Skills Training Support Funding/Access Training

o Coding in Schools Grant – $103,000.00

o Student Transportation – Enhance current system/new bus pass $167,035.00

o WellAhead – a philanthropic initiative of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation that aims to improve child and youth mental health by integrating wellbeing into school communities. SD#67 is in its third year as a pilot project. Last Spring, our students hosted a successful “Mental Health Summit” at Okanagan College.

o Through a Different Lens – $150,000.00 for three years from Vancouver Foundation to fund a B.C. Okanagan-Skaha school district-wide initiative to improve learning for those students most at risk. Educators are collaborating to investigate flexible instructional and assessment strategies without compromising standards.

As well at the end of June; senior staff, parents and trustees submitted applications for the following;

o Trout Creek Elementary – Rural Education Enhancement Fund $369,815.00

o West Bench Elementary – Rural Education Enhancement Fund $369,404.00

Then there was the Redirected Administrative Savings of $266,527.00 which the District had originally cut from the budget.

Although the 2015-2016 school year end marked a major reversal in direction, the year ahead is full of promise as the Board of Education embarks on a strategic planning process.

The board has engaged the services of retired Superintendent, Dr. Terrance Sullivan to guide us through the process.

The board’s intention is to involve all of our partner groups – students, principals and vice-principals, Okanagan Skaha Teachers Union, CUPE, excluded staff, Aboriginal Education Council, District Parent Advisory Council and all Parent Advisory Councils to participate in the creation of a relevant strategic plan.

Our first sessions will take place this week.

Linda Van Alphen is a Summerland school trustee and chair of the Okanagan Skaha School Board.