Sooke School District secretary/treasurer Harold Cull goes through the changes in this year’s district budget for those in attendance at this week’s public presentation of the proposal. This slide outlines how high the previous two budgets were on the “Suck Meter.”

Extra funds available for school district

Additional money will help, but won’t restore past cuts

With the continued growth of the region as a whole and a new funding model increasing the amount of money the district receives per student, it might not be a surprise to hear the Sooke School District (SD62) has a little extra money to play with this coming year.

Unfortunately, it’s not much, especially considering the cuts that have been made in the recent past.

The 2015-16 fiscal year budget was presented this week at an open meeting at the district office. Those in attendance heard the administration’s plans for the extra $260,000 available over last year, and how they came to have that money.

As outlined by SD62 secretary/treasurer Harold Cull, the increase comes mostly from estimated additional student enrolment and increase in provincial per-student funding. In short, SD62 will receive an additional $3.8 million from the B.C. government next year.

Roughly $3.5 million of that money, however, is needed to cover non-discretionary expenditures that come along with those additional students and the new teachers’ agreement signed by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation last fall.

It leaves $260,000 in “discretionary” funds that the district can allocate. Unfortunately, because of the $4.1 million cut from the SD62 budget over the past two years, it won’t go very far.

“(Those cuts had) a huge impact on our operation,” Cull said. “Over the last two years, we’ve really had to tighten our belt and make our operations as efficient as possible. So when we’re talking about a status quo budget – it’s better than what it was the past two years, but it’s still not great.”

But since $260,000 is nothing to sneeze at, it’s important that it’s allocated properly.

Cull said that in deciding how to spend that additional discretionary money, four themes emerge from stakeholders –  teachers, staff, parent groups, etc. They are restoring supplies budgets and clerical support cuts, addressing staff compensation issues and restoring staffing reductions.

As such, the draft budget has a balanced approach to addressing all four of those categories, Cull said.

The proposal includes adding $100,000 to the supplies budget, $40,000 for extra clerical support, creating a full-time transportation manager position (instead of sharing one with Saanich) and doing a full custodial review – possibly ending in hiring a custodial manager, as well, though that is yet to be determined.

“This budget, yes, in some ways is a status quo budget,” said board trustee Margot Swinburnson during the question/comment period. But that is based on “last year and the year before (being) horrible budgets,” she said. “We are merely putting a Band-Aid on a huge festering sore, because we are not coming up to the levels that we need. I’m tired of this underfunding … 15 years tired.”

District superintendent Jim Cambridge summed up the proposed financial plan:

“The soundbites for this budget are: more teachers, more support staff, more clerical staff, no more administration and more supplies in a really tight budget,” he said, noting the situation is still not ideal. “It’s not as good as what we had two years ago, but it’s certainly better than what we had last year.”

The budget next comes before the board on April 14, with possible adoption on April 28.

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