Enrolment drop means budget challenge for school district

A third consecutive year with fewer students in local classrooms presents another financial hurdle for Richmond Board of Education trustees to clear in the upcoming school year.

The district is forecasting a drop of nearly 300 students for the 2014/15 school year, which translates into a $2.6 million drop in funding.

Further putting the board behind the eight ball, is CUPE wage increases which are not funded, and a general increase in benefit costs and other inflationary cost pressures, according to a report by Mark De Mello, secretary treasurer for the district.

The decrease in the number of students also means 10 fewer full-time equivalent teachers.

But the news isn't completely gloomy.

The funding decline will be mitigated by a provincial funding protection program, which ensures districts don't experience more than a 1.5-per-cent decline in funding. So the district is expecting a $1.25 million top-up for 2014/15.

And the International Student Program continues to grow, and with it does the revenues.

The district is also mulling the addition of initiatives for next year:

• inclusive learning communities, at a cost of $200,000 to $300,000, which would study new and innovative approaches to providing an inclusive learning environment for all students in Richmond, especially those with special needs

• health and safety support, at a cost of $80,000, which would provide an additional staff person to work with the health and safety officer on claims management and with the director of human resources on wellness management

To deal with the financial shortfall, the district's executive team would transfer between $1 million to $1.5 million from the district's surplus.

As well, reducing through attrition the number of educational assistants from teh current 15 to about eight to 10, would save between $250,000 and $750,000.

School-based supplies will also be reduced by 10 per cent, for a total of $400,000.

Other cuts would include the areas of district supplies, secondary administration, continuing education co-ordinator, learning services, and the district's HVAC contract.

Board of education chair Donna Sargent said trustees will make their final decision on what to chop at the May 20 meeting of the board.

She said another budget workshop with staff and trustees will be held in the interim.

The public can again give their input at the May 20 meeting, or by e-mailing or phoning trustees or staff.

At Monday's board meeting, the public and local stakeholders expressed concerns about staffing cuts and "were really encouraging us to look at other places," Sargent said.

Though contracting out transportation services was mentioned in De Melo's report, but not recommended by the district's executive team, local bus drivers came out to make their feelings known to trustees and staff.

"It's just really tough times," Sargent said, and every year it seems to be "getting tougher and tougher".

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