Greater Victoria school district facing $1.8-million shortfall

The Greater Victoria school district is looking at another tough budget year, with trustees having to pare down a $1,815,000 shortfall.

School board trustees saw the 2014-15 budget figures this week, and will begin a series of meetings seeking public input on April 2. The budget is scheduled to be finalized April 23.

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The district has a structural or ongoing deficit of about $8.1 million — the result of the gap between its costs and its revenues and government funding — but one-time carry-forward funds of $6.3 million have reduced the 2014-15 shortfall to $1,815,000.

Trustees were in a similar position a year ago, when they faced a structural deficit of more than $8 million. Thanks to a series of savings and cuts — including $1.7 million saved by reducing spending on school supplies — they squeaked out a balanced budget for 2013-14 with just $16,000 to spare on a $172-million budget.

For the 2014-15 budget, trustees were given 11 money-saving measures to consider, totalling $1,868,388, on an overall budget of $170.8 million.

The options include:

• Relocate Sundance Elementary programs to Lake Hill Elementary and close Sundance, for a savings of $316,182.

• Reduce budget for school supplies — saving $337,764.

• Close District Resource Centre — saving $52,601.

• Relocate girls alternative program — saving $107,021, plus $90,000 gained in rental revenue.

• Eliminate school learning mentors — saving $397,480.

The decision on Sundance school was scheduled to be made Thursday night at a special board meeting.

Trustees heard that most of the material at the District Resource Centre, which circulates learning resources such as science kits, string instruments and software, is not being used regularly, and that items could be distributed to individual schools as needed.

District superintendent Sherri Bell said the prospect of doing away with school learning mentors was especially difficult for her. She said the program, which has teachers work with colleagues in areas such as planning and classroom support, has been in place for 10 years and is well-regarded.

Bell noted that some of the proposed budget measures indicate job loss, but said with retirements and other factors, it is possible that no one will be laid off.

Trustee Catherine Alpha said the provincial government has caused budget pressures by not adding funds for expenses such as higher B.C. Hydro rates and wage increases negotiated by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“Time after time, the government is downloading costs onto us,” Alpha said.

The budget is based on a forecast of 18,657 students in September, very close to the current total, attending 47 schools. School districts receive per-student funding from the provincial government.

Public meetings will be held April 2 and 9 at 7 p.m. at S.J. Willis, 923 Topaz Ave., followed by a 7 p.m. meeting April 14 at the district office at 556 Boleskine Rd.

All school districts in B.C. are required to file a balanced budget by June 30.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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