Burnaby district needs to carve $3.1 million out of budget

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Burnaby school district is seeking public feedback on its plans to deal with another shortfall caused by provincial funding not keeping up with costs.

Maintaining the status quo would leave the district $6.1 million in the red, said district secretary-treasurer Greg Frank. That's due to inflation in costs including staff benefits, utilities (eight per cent), natural gas (15 per cent) and water, sewer and garbage services (five per cent).

And as teachers' years of experience and levels of qualifications increase each year, so do their salaries, a total cost to the district of $750,000 a year, Frank said.

Meanwhile, the education ministry has provided no more funding through its operating grants to make up for it all.

That's where the potential cuts and reorganization come in.

Burnaby has total surpluses of $3 million which it will put towards the shortfall, leaving $3.1 million to make up through adjustments.

Frank stressed that the district has come up with options worth more than that. From there, the school board will be choosing what cuts to make. "No decisions have been made."

The largest potential cut would be by slightly increasing class sizes in high schools by 0.5 full-time-equivalent (FTE) students per class. That would save $1.5 million by  cutting 16 FTE teaching positions, but largely in blocks of teaching time spread amongst numerous teachers.

Non-enrolling teachers at elementary schools, such as music teachers and teacher-librarians, is being considered as a source of $800,000 in savings by reducing such positions by 8.8 FTEs.

The programs would all continue, but with "modest" cuts in teaching time spread amongst schools, he said.

Burnaby is also considering joining many other Metro Vancouver districts in cutting daytime custodians and shifting more of the cleaning work to evening shifts when it can happen more efficiently, Frank said.

That would mean eliminating eight FTE custodians, for a savings of $650,000. Custodians would still need to be available during school hours to open the buildings and make sure they're safe, he noted. So the move would leave remaining daytime custodians responsible for more than one school.

Up to three FTE principal positions could be cut, for a savings of $330,000. That would happen through a combination of cutting jobs and increasing teaching time for administrators, so part of their salary comes from the teaching side.

The district could save $300,000 through operational efficiencies in its adult and continuing education programs. That would happen through consolidating locations to reduce costs, such as the leasing costs of the one site, in the Brentwood area, that the district doesn't own itself. It would also look to reduce the costs of the facilities' contracted-out security services.

This option would not reduce the number of programs available but would cut locations, administration and support costs, he said.

Other potential reductions include a cutting 1.8 FTE positions in Aboriginal education to save $166,000, and a 0.5 FTE through not replacing a speech pathologist after a pending retirement.

It's also looking at modest cuts to supplies, services and training for the rest of the current school year to save $175,000 that it can carry forward to next year to help offset the shortfall.

On the revenue side, the district will look at raising rental rates at its facilities and expanding its international education program. This year, that program's revenues look to be almost $1 million more than budgeted, and a modest increase is being projected for next year which would amount to roughly $100,000 more towards the bottom line.

Frank noted that these cuts are in addition to the $1.6 million in reductions it made last fall to pay for negotiated pay hikes for Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) school support workers.

And there's more to come.

Burnaby is expecting another $4.2 million shortfall in 2015-2016 and $1.6 million in 2016-2017, Frank said, and the government has so far said its operating grants to schools will stay the same.

And none of this factors in the potential impact of the new contract with teachers which is currently being negotiated.

"We really are very concerned about what's happening," said school board chair Baljinder Narang. "Whatever we cut today will have to be cut next year and the years to follow."

Burnaby Teachers Association (BTA) president James Sanyshyn was surprised by the extent of the provincial government's downloading of costs such as inflation.

At the district's public budget meeting on Wednesday, Sanyshyn planned to offer up "as a sacrificial lamb" a longstanding policy that pays teachers and principals a retirement gratuity upon retirement. It amounts to one month's salary for the 30 to 60 that retire each year, which would be a total savings of "several hundred thousand dollars," he estimated.

"It's great that we honour long service but if we stop that practice, that could save jobs and I think it's something we need to look at," said Sanyshyn, who noted he had not yet presented the idea to the BTA membership.

He planned to meet with the board to suggest additional cuts to try to save jobs.

"They've always been able to find internal savings … but they don't have any more cushion so now we're having the issues that New West, Coquitlam and Vancouver have been facing for years, which is reductions in staff, reductions in services and increasingly difficult working conditions and learning conditions for students."

In the long term, there's potential for "many, many more job losses unless something changes," Sanyshyn said.

"It's all driven by the ministry in order to fulfill its election promise to balance the budget by this day and time regardless of the human carnage that is resulting."

The district is accepting public feedback on the budget proposals until Wednesday, April 16 at The school board is slated to make its decisions at its meeting on April 22.

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