School District #83 could see budget shortfall of up to $1.8 million

School District #83  Secretary Treasurer Sterling Olson gave trustees a preliminary budget report with a best-case and worst-case scenario for next year’s budget shortfall.

“It could be as little as $600,000 or over $1.8 million,” said Olson. “The optimistic projection – the ministry continues funding protection to help mitigate revenue decline and we’ll be better off than in previous years.”

Olson said if the district gets funding protection, which offsets the money they lose from declining enrolment, their surplus from last year will cover the budget shortfall.

The school district ended last year with a surplus budget of just under $3 million, but used $1.8 million to cover the previous year’s shortfall.

“We only have enough money really to support the lower end of the estimates,” said Olson. “If the board is so unfortunate to not get funding protection next year, then they’ll have to be going through a process where they can find reductions to services to balance the budget.”

The school district is expecting 101 fewer students in the 2011/12 year, which means $704,000 fewer dollars for the district.

This decline follows a steady trend and is expected to continue until 2015. In 2001, the school district’s total school age full-time equivalent (FTE) enrolment was 8,175 and by 2010 had dropped to 6,596.

Olson said the only upward trends were in the aboriginal and special education numbers. Over the same time period, aboriginal education increased from 636.5 to 918, and special education funded students rose from 397 to 521. Olson said in 2001 aboriginal students made up 7.8 per cent of the total student population and this school year they make up 13.9 per cent.

Olson told the board the public gets mixed messages when they hear the provincial government say they’ve increased education funding and school boards constantly have budget shortfalls.

“The funding is increasing but it hasn’t been increasing enough to cover cost increases that the districts face.”

Olson mentioned a few items such as increased fuel and utility costs, as well as the purchase of carbon offsets which cost $69,000 last year.

Olson expects funding protection will continue, but will know this week as the funding formula announcement is expected.

School District #83 trustees have an in-camera meeting slated to discuss the budget, and a public budget meeting is set for April 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the district education centre.