Chinook School Division uses reserves to balance budget

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
Chinook School Division uses reserves to balance budget Education SouthWest Saskatchewan  Chinook School Division

The Chinook School Division will use about $3 million from accumulated reserves to balance the budget for the 2014-15 school year.

The budget was approved at a special meeting of the Chinook School Division Board of Education on June 23.
The school division’s operational expenditures during 2014-15 will be approximately $88.86 million and revenues from grant taxes and other sources will be around $85.46 million.
“It is always a concern when you have to dip into reserve, but in the big picture item we were quite happy with the budget,” Board Chair Randy Beler said afterwards. “It would always be nice to get extra funding from the ministry, but sometimes you don’t get that and you have to make things work.”
Chinook School Division Chief Financial Officer Rod Quintin said many of the costs in the 2014-15 budget that contributed to the deficit are one-time expenses.
“We always look at mitigating ongoing operational costs and really keeping a close track on those, but for example this year a big dollar is attached to the finalizing of our efforts related to the grade reorganization, of the facility re-organization in Swift Current,” he emphasized.
His only real concern is the ongoing cost to replace school buses, which is more expensive than the amount available.
“We’re spending more money to replace school buses than we’ve actually been allocated and that’s a little bit of a concern for us, but the rest are primarily one-time type costs and there are very few costs in here that contribute to the deficit that we would call ongoing,” he said.
According to Quintin, the school division received about $2.4 million less from the provincial government for the 2014-15 financial year. This is partly due to an ongoing decline in student enrolment.
“This is the first year where the ministry is actually going to consider our September enrolment decline in the year that it occurs and fund accordingly,” he explained. “So we actually had to get a recalculation of our grant after the March budget day announcement to account for what we project to be enrolment decline and really turned out to be about a $600,000 difference for us.”
The challenge for the school division is that a decline in enrolment does not directly translate into cost savings.
“If you’ve got a handful of students less in a particular school, it doesn’t automatically mean you can cut the cost of operating that school by an equivalent amount,” he said. “The challenge is that these enrolments decline in various grades and various places and we can’t respond directly with perhaps a change in staffing to accommodate that. Obviously at some point we’re going to have to get our staffing levels as closely aligned as possible as we can with our enrolments.”
There are some staff reductions in this budget, but in the case of teachers the reductions are achieved through attrition, for example a position is not filled after a retirement or resignation. At various schools the temporary contracts of educational assistants (EAs) will also not be renewed.
“The teacher equivalent was roughly six that were taken through attrition,” he said. “The EAs were roughly about 20 that were taken. There were some layoffs of some more longer-term type staff, but what we find is there’s a fair turnover of EA staffing and so quite often through other types of attrition these people will find some type of position somewhere within the system.”
Beler emphasized the Chinook School Division will still be able to proceed with the implementation of key strategic priorities within this tight fiscal framework.
“We won’t be behind on anything,” he said. “In fact, we will be right on track. … The big one is always our literacy and our math program. So we will be continuing with that. The literacy program is a maintenance program and the math program is still building momentum. So we will be continuing with that as we had planned to do all along.”
The budget includes funding to complete a number of capital projects during the 2014-15 financial year.
There will be major roof projects at Leader Composite and Fox Valley schools, a heating system upgrade at Frontier School, the completion of the new École Centennial School and upgrades at Fairview School.
Projects will be initiated to carry out upgrades at Central and Irwin schools as part of the school reorganization and grade reconfiguration in Swift Current while there will be smaller preventative maintenance and repair projects at other schools in the school division.

via SW Sask News – Prairie Post – Prairie Post

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