Burnaby school district faces almost $2M shortfall

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Burnaby school district is seeking public input as it grapples with a budget shortfall in the range of $1.5 million to $2 million for next year, according to secretary-treasurer Greg Frank.

The numbers would look a lot worse, with a $5-million shortfall, if the district didn't have a $3.3-million surplus expected by the end of the current school year.

Frank said this year's projected surplus is the result of several factors. For one, the 2010-2011 school year ended with the district having a surplus of about $900,000, which was carried forward.

The international education program saw an increase in enrolment of 181 full-time equivalent (FTE) students, which resulted in $1.2 million in additional net revenues for the district.

And the education ministry's release of "holdback" funds—after enrolment numbers are confirmed and any provincewide surplus in per-student funding is calculated—resulted in an additional $115 per student to Burnaby.

Burnaby's enrolment for 2011-2012 is down by 69 FTE students, but the holdback money "more than offsets that," Frank said.

As for planning the district's budget for 2012-2013, the preliminary numbers call for a shortfall of $5 million. That's due largely to inflation on supplies, services, energy costs and employee benefits, salary increments for teachers, declining enrolment at secondary schools and increased demand for education assistants to work with special needs students, Frank said.

After applying the current year's expected surplus, the resulting shortfall of approximately $2-million already factors in $429,145 in new funding for vulnerable students announced by the education ministry Wednesday.

The money is part of an $11.2-million new supplement for vulnerable students in B.C. for next school year, which is going to districts where the number of such students has increased. Frank noted the supplement is partly the result of a provincewide enrolment decline, which freed up the money.

The new funding, is in addition to the $2.2 million Burnaby already receives for services for at-risk children and youth, such as meal programs, support workers and counselling.

Nevertheless, the $2-million projected shortfall represents about one per cent of the district's overall budget, 90.2 per cent of which is comprised of salaries and employee benefits costs, Frank said. Of that, 56 per cent of all FTE staff are teachers.

The education ministry has instructed school districts to plan budgets based on net-zero, he said, meaning any salary increases negotiated with striking teachers would have to be funded from within the same overall funding amount.

The district is seeking public input on options and priorities for the 2012-2013 budget, with a public meeting to be held Wednesday, March 28, 7 p.m. at the school board office, 5325 Kincaid St., Burnaby. To make a presentation or submit input, send to or call 604-664-8389. Deadline for feedback is April 15.

The preliminary budget is scheduled to be presented to the school board for approval on April 24.

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