The New Westminster school district is "turning up every couch cushion" to find funds to help get it through this year, but the options presented to the board of education Tuesday night came up $76,000 short to help meet its goal to cut $2.2-million from this year's budget.
Trustee MaryAnn Mortensen was disappointed with the lack of information district staff provided trustees and the public at the meeting.
"I don't think we can make a decision on what to cut without information," MaryAnn Mortensen told The Record. "We are still 76,000 in the glue if we go with the shopping list they provided us, and I don't think the ministry would accept us presenting another deficit."
At the meeting, Mortensen suggested the district consider putting money aside in the future.
"I'm a fan of contingency funds," said Mortensen. "I'm not a fan of putting everyone through turmoil every few years. We need to look at how we have been doing things, and we need to do them better."
Mortensen asked secretary-treasurer Brian Sommerfeldt for budgeted figures for the costs, actual figures and the variances for this year's budget. The exchange turned prickly.
"I don't want to answer that off the top of my head," Sommerfeldt said, adding, "it's late, and I'm tired.
"We are not resourced to turn that amount of detail around in a week," he said. "There's not enough staff."
Mortensen said she'd been asking for the information since September.
Trustee Lisa Graham echoed Mortensen, saying she also needed more information. Roughly 10 parents and about six union members, including the New Westminster Teachers' Union president and the local CUPE president, turned up at the school board committee meeting to discuss ways to avoid a hefty $2.2-million deficit this year.
The district is looking to cut spending through a "condensed consultation process" for this year at the recommendation of Joan Axford, a consultant who came in to review last year's books after the district discovered an almost $2.8-million surprise deficit.
If the district doesn't cut spending this year, it will face another $2.2-million shortfall, Axford told the board.
The district must work fast to look for ways to find capital, but also to recover the deficit from last year. The goal is to ask the Ministry of Education if the district can pay back that shortfall over the course of five years. It will need approval to make such a move.
The district did not present any staffing cuts as a way to save money, though trustee Michael Ewen said the board could consider staff cuts.
"If we don't want to go down this road, it might be reasonable to look at staffing," Ewen said.
"If we really want to look at all of the options, then staffing has to be on the table. It's kind of the elephant in the room here," Janzen said.
"The message from our consultant was very clear," said Cook. "We have structural issues."
The options the district administrators presented didn't go far enough to address structure, he said.
"In many ways, we've got a broken motor and we're working on the transmission," he said. "The message is very clear from the consultant, (it) is, you have a structural problem that you need to address."
The district spends six per cent more than the average in Metro Vancouver and three per cent more than the province on staffing, Janzen said.
The district suggested selling a property on industrial land in Queensborough, charging community groups for using school facilities and looking for a larger contribution from the business company to boost revenue. To cut spending it's considering not replacing staff, which requires talks with unions, offloading costs for educating some adult special needs students, reducing May Day spending, cutting back on consultants, eliminating reading conferences, cutting back on field trip spending and not giving out a Welcome to Kindergarten package.
The district has already implemented a ban on all unapproved overtime and implemented hiring restrictions.
To view the deficit recovery plan, visit: http://district.sd40.bc.ca/sites/default/files/Budget%20Options%20Meeting%20Dec%2011%202012%202.pdf
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