Saanich district facing nearly $1M deficit in school budget

The Saanich school district is wrestling with another budget shortfall, typical of what it has had to do for many years.

“We’re about $950,000 short for next year,” said superintendent Keven Elder. “The board’s in the middle of going through its budget-advisory process to find that money.”

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Once that is done, the district — as with others around B.C. — will receive separate funding from the Ministry of Education to add teachers so it can comply with the November Supreme Court of Canada ruling that restored class size and composition to teachers’ 2002 contract levels.

“But prior to bringing that money in, we have to find just shy of $1 million, which will be reductions in all kinds of people and services,” Elder said. “We are not sure yet where that will be.

“The next month or so will tell the tale in terms of where we find reductions.”

The November court ruling reduces the chance that teaching positions could be affected, since compliance means adding teachers to reduce class size.

Elder said the district, with about 8,000 students, stands to get $4.6 million to cover about 40 hirings — although the net gain will be about half that.

The budget is due to be passed on May 17.

Greater Victoria school district officials had expected a difficult budget year for 2017-18, but instead find themselves with a surplus.

The school board is holding a special meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at the district offices, 556 Boleskine Rd., and is expected to pass the 2017-18 budget. There will an opportunity for public input.

Projections at one point had the deficit as high as $8 million, a figure that was to have included a $5.9-million structural or ongoing deficit. Money was set aside last year to cover the structural deficit but factors like higher enrolment — meaning more per pupil funding — helped pare the figure down to $4.1 million, said secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh.

When the $5.9 million is added in, that puts the district, home to about 19,000 students, solidly in the black with money to use as needed.

“The one question mark is what the true ramifications of the settlement are, the collective-agreement language coming back into play,” Walsh said.

He said the district won’t know for sure until October if its allotment of $15 million for about 140 full-time equivalent teachers and 30 temporary teachers-on-call is sufficient.

In the 10,000-student Sooke school district, no shortfall has been identified so far as budget deliberations proceed, said superintendent Jim Cambridge.

“We’re continuing to work on it.”

Part of the process is factoring in the provincial money that will be coming, he said. The district is looking at $7.1 million to cover about 60 full-time equivalent teaching positions.

“We’ve sort of put everything aside right now to make sure the money the government is providing us is going to meet the obligations we’re required to meet in order to restore the [contract] language,” Cambridge said. “Once we’ve done that we’ll be able to look at the entire budget for next year.”

The Sooke school board is expected to pass its budget May 23.

School boards must pass balanced budgets every year by June 30.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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