The Central Okanagan Board of Education will discuss over the next month options to overcome a $3.3 million 2022-23 budget shortfall. (File photo)

Central Okanagan trustees distraught by $3.3M budget shortfall

Complaint raised that public school system is under-funded

The Central Okanagan Board of Education may face some difficult decisions to account for a potential $3.3 million budget shortfall in the 2022-23 school year budget.

The topic of the potential of staff reductions and program cuts was introduced to the board’s finance and audit committee for feedback last Wednesday.

While the board trustees on the committee were united in their distaste for measures introduced for discussion by school district staff, Central Public Okanagan Schools superintendent/CEO Kevin Kaardal cautioned the funding discussions with the Ministry of Education to remain fluid as the implications for the provincial government’s 2022-23 budget filter down through the various ministry portfolios.

The committee sentiment was the budget shortfall is another example of the public education system being under-funded, as ministry funding per pupil remains unchanged from the 2021-22 years.

That doesn’t take into account a rise in operating costs driven by inflation and increases in staff absences driven by COVID-19 protocols and health regulations set out by the provincial government.

While the continuation of the current rising enrolment trend could generate additional funding in the fall to help offset the deficit, Kaardal said relying on that always carries an element of risk.

“The reality is we have to submit a balanced budget by the end of June for next year. While there is a good chance we will be successful as we have in past years of securing more funding in November/December when the enrolment figures are known, we can not include that in the budget at this point,” he said.

Also impacting the budget this year is the absence of funding from the provincial government, $623,079, as part of the ‘safe return to class’ initiative to help prepare schools for the return of students during the pandemic.

That money was used to support enhanced cleaning protocols, fund mental health initiatives and provide for additional supply requirements such as hand sanitizer, masks, custodial supplies and other personal protective equipment.

Suggestions for increasing revenues include expanding the international student enrolment, increasing pre-school/after-school program permit fees and additional increases to school busing fees.

In total, potential revenue increases would accumulate to $968,443, while expense savings would add up to $4,482,299.

The idea of enlisting more public-private funding partnerships with corporate entities drew a stiff rebuke from trustee Moyra Baxter, recounting how the need to eliminate that policy back in the early 2000s was symbolized by Pepsi clocks in various school buildings.

“That was a ridiculous situation…we need to realize these corporations don’t do these things out of the kindness of their heart. It is not philanthropy. They are looking to get some sort of return out of it,” Baxter said.

Trustee Chantelle Desrosiers said while none of the expense cut or revenue growth suggestions “will make any of us happy,” she warned the school board may face some difficult fiscal realities when Kaardal submits his final budget recommendations in June.

“Options for bringing in more revenue may be more preferable to just cutting programs,” she said.

For its part, in response to a series of budget questions related to the Central Okanagan School District posed by Black Press Media, the ministry of education and child care emailed that the 2022-23 budget calls for a $7.4 billion investment in K-12 schools in B.C., a more than 32 per cent increase, $1.8 billion in budgeted dollars, from the 2016-17 ministry budget.

The ministry also stated school districts can call on staff in casual positions (such as teachers teaching on call) to support continuity of education and services to students in case of staff absences.

“We appreciate the dedicated efforts of all those working in K-12 education during the pandemic to keep school open and safe, and maintain quality education for students,” stated the ministry.

READ MORE: Portables a drain on Central Okanagan School District budget

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