School budget cut

The Okanagan Skaha School Board faced a $1.5 million funding shortfall this year.

In order to cope with a $1.5 million funding shortfall, the Okanagan Skaha School District dipped into accumulated savings and reserves and made additional cuts to the budget.

The preliminary operating budget for the 2013 to 2014 school year was approved at a public board meeting earlier this month.

The board used $900,000 in accumulated savings and reserves.

The remainder, $600,000, comes from numerous reductions.

“Our long-term planning strategy has again allowed us to mitigate the effects of a funding shortage; however reductions to services and programs are still necessary this year,” said Ginny Manning, chair of the school board.

The $600,000 in cuts came from a number of measures. The reductions include cuts to the gifted program, the deaf and hard of hearing teacher, helping teachers, the behaviour program and administration.

Other efforts include clerical reductions worth $70,000, maintenance and custodial reductions worth $88,000 and a reduction in school and district supply, equipment and travel budgets to trim $190,300 from the budget.

Summerland school trustee Linda Van Alphen, who is also the chair of the school board’s finance and management committee, said enrolment in the school district is forecast to drop by 200 to 250 students.

The declining enrolment is at the high school and upper middle school levels.

According to school district information, elementary enrolment has shown signs of levelling off, but future enrolment drops in higher grades are anticipated.

“It will be harder for high schools to provide different programs to the students,” she said. “Our high schools will have to get far more creative.”

She said methods including video conferencing and other technological measures could be used to provide education to students at the various high schools in the school district.

A separate Learning Improvement Fund will be available again this year. This fund provides additional resources to support challenging learning conditions.

The spending plan must be completed by Oct. 15 and will be focussed on teachers, support staff and other resources.

“I am pleased that the Learning Improvement Fund will again be available this year and we will be able to add staffing and resources to educationally challenging areas,” Manning said.

Van Alphen said the board was able to meet its budget for this year, but might not be able to cope with another funding reduction in the future.

“If we have cuts next year, I don’t know where we’re going to go,” she said. “This was the most difficult year we’ve had. We’re doing the very best we can.”

Unlike municipal governments, school boards may not adjust tax rates. Instead, funding for a school district is distributed by the province, based on enrolment figures.

School boards are not allowed to operate deficit budgets.

To bring in additional funding, Van Alphen said the school board is looking at ways to market its technology and to attract international students.

She added that while the budget cuts are made carefully, with an attempt to minimize the impact on families and students, the board is not able to offer everything it would like to provide.

“Our hearts go out to the parents,” she said.