Burnaby school district to tackle shortfall of $4-5 million

When it comes to developing budgets for Burnaby school district, this year's situation is the same as in recent years—starting off with a shortfall.

Just maintaining the status quo of services will result in a deficit of $4 million to $5 million due to increased costs, such as contracted wage increases, said Burnaby school board chair Larry Hayes.

On the plus side, according to preliminary figures, it appears the district will manage to end the current school year with a $2.5 million surplus, thanks to some salary savings, more investment income than expected and higher-than-expected energy savings.

"We feel the best financial position to take is to apply that to the following year," Hayes said, noting that is the general practice in the district.

That still leaves $1.5 million to $2.5 million that the district will have to cut unless the education ministry increases funding since, by law, it cannot run a deficit.

While last year the education ministry provided $88 per student more than in the past, "that was a one-off," Hayes said.

He said district staff are currently looking for places to trim, and any new programs won't happen without taking the money from somewhere else.

Options are also limited for the district to increase revenues. The ministry provides 93 per cent of its operating funding and the only additional revenue sources currently come from investment income, international students, leased-out properties and energy savings from improving the energy efficiency of district buildings, he said.

"When we're talking into the millions [of dollars], it's pretty hard to say there's something out there that's just going to fix the problem."

Meanwhile, the district is unable to keep up with items such as technology, said Hayes, noting it's not uncommon for students to have better and more current  computers and software at home.

The 2012-2013 budget year is expected to be even worse.

"We always have our fingers crossed going into a provincial election year that, lo and behold, there might be a big pot of money found at the end of the rainbow," he said. "But you never know, you can't count on that."

The education ministry is scheduled to announce the preliminary numbers for its school district operating grants on March 15.

The district is currently seeking input from the community on how to handle the shortfall, with a public budget meeting set for March 29, 7 p.m., at the Schou Education Centre, 4041 Canada Way (see for more details).

School trustees are scheduled to approve the preliminary 2011-2012 budget on April 26.

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