Greater Victoria school board approves budget

Even Greater Victoria school board chairwoman Peg Orcherton was surprised at the unanimous approval from trustees for this year’s district budget, especially because of the difficult cuts that had to be made to ensure it was a balanced document.

All of the B.C.’s 60 school boards are required to pass balanced budgets each year by June 30.

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“I expected the budget to pass but I didn’t expect it to pass unanimously, so that was great,” Orcherton said.

The Greater Victoria district, home to 47 schools and about 19,000 students, was faced with a $1.5-million shortfall on a budget of $170.8 million for 2014-15. There was an $8.1-million structural or ongoing deficit, but that was brought down to $1.8 million with $6.3 million in one-time, carry-forward funds.

Just over $300,000 was pared last month with a decision to close Sundance Elementary School. The rest of the total was lopped with unanimity on cutting such things as the school-supply budget ($337,764 in savings), the district resource centre ($52,601 in savings) and school learning mentors ($397,480 in savings).

The resource centre distributes such things as software and science kits but is not used regularly, while learning mentors are part of a 10-year-old program that sees teachers work with colleagues in planning, classroom support and other areas.

In total, the board accepted 11 cost-saving measures.

District superintendent Sherri Bell has said that retirements and other factors could eliminate the need for any layoffs.

Orcherton said the budget is being sent to the Ministry of Education with a letter “expressing our significant concerns about being forced to make these cuts.”

The letter said that the cost of education has exceeded provincial funding for over a decade.

Greater Victoria’s tough round of cuts for the 2014-15 budget follows an equally demanding process in 2013-14, where trustees worked out a balanced $172-million budget with only $16,000 to spare.

Saanich trustees are scheduled to approve their annual budget of about $80 million on Wednesday, while their Sooke counterparts are looking at their May 27 board meeting as the budget-approval date. The Sooke board has passed first reading of the budget in a unanimous vote.

Sooke district superintendent Jim Cambridge said a $3.5-million deficit has been worked down on an overall budget of about $82 million.

Cuts include four fewer principals and vice-principals for next year, the cutting of custodial-manager position and cost-sharing a transportation manager with the Saanich district.

Budget approval will be May 14 in the Gulf Islands school district, which has about 1,700 students and a budget just under $20 million.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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