School district dips into savings to balance budget

School District 60 trustees approved Monday evening a balanced operating budget for next school year, one that holds the line on student programming but draws from its savings to break even.

Trustees voted unanimously on the $66.6-million preliminary budget for 2015-16, drawing down on $1.3 million in reserves.

Spending is up about four cent from last year, or $2.8 million, with increases seen mostly in wages and benefits.

District treasurer Doug Boyd said the budget is status quo and conservative, estimating about 80 new students next year.

“We are using our reserves reluctantly,” said Boyd, “but it’s absolutely necessary to maintain the programs for our students.”

Earlier this year, the province demanded cash-strapped school districts to find an extra $35 million in combined “administrative” savings for next school year.

SD60 says it will meet that demand by trimming an extra $340,000 in spending next year, largely by not filling jobs as they become vacant. In particular, it will not fill vacancies left by Human Resources Director Ray Asai and Maintenance Supervisor Ivan Lewis, both of whom are retiring at the end of this school year. Those duties will fall to other staff.

Without the reserves, the district would have posted a deficit of $1.3 million for next year, however, it is bound by law to pass balanced budgets. Boyd said the district has about $2.7 million left in its reserve. The district likes to see between three and five per cent of its annual budget in reserves, he said.

The district will run a capital deficit of $568,793 for next year, which it is allowed to do from the province.

Boyd acknowledged drawing on reserves and reducing jobs through attrition is not sustainable for the district, but said they are temporary measures to meet the growing strains of being asked to do more with less by the province despite district experiencing substantial growth.

The district needs at least three new schools, with many already at or over capacity, and has already had to draw on its reserves to meet provincial cuts to school transportation. The district will have to find $600,000 in administrative savings for the province for 2016-17.

The district has until the end of June to file its budget with the province. It will file an amended budget later this fall, once enrolment numbers are finalized.

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