With less than a week before New Westminster school trustees have to decide how they'll address their $2.2 million budget deficit, Tuesday night's committee of the whole meeting gave the public one last chance to get their thoughts known about the tough cuts ahead.
According to the slide presentation from secretary-treasurer Brian Sommerfeldt, the district has already found $138,000 in savings from staff adjustments, meaning $2,074,200 of savings still need to be found.
While the committee of the whole meeting had more of a workshop feel to it - trustees stressed that no final decisions would be made on Tuesday - the constantly changing numbers show just how difficult the task of cutting that $2 million will be.
The provincial holdback figure of $700,000 from Dec. 18 has now decreased to $596,000, meaning the district is potentially looking at finding more than $100,000 of savings elsewhere.
Sommerfeldt told The Record on Wednesday morning that he had to adjust the holdback number to the more conservative figure of $596,000 and the district won't get the final figure until some time in April.
Perhaps the most contentious item on Tuesday's agenda was the district revealing more details on what could happen if it sells a Queensborough property it currently owns.
The district believes the property is valued at between $1.5 and $2 million, and the assumed value on Sommerfeldt's spreadsheet was $1.8 million.
But the district may not get all of the proceeds of that sale, as traditionally 75 per cent of the proceeds of a land sale go back to the Ministry of Education and 25 per cent goes back to the board.
That means that if the property is sold for $1.8 million, the district would receive $450,000.
In addition, if the property isn't sold by the district's fiscal year-end of June 30, any money realized from the sale can't be applied to this year's budget.
Sommerfeldt admitted that the district hasn't done an appraisal of the property, so it doesn't know the exact value of the property.
Trustee Casey Cook said he was uncomfortable with discussion about the Queensborough property because potential buyers may not offer top dollar if they know the district has to sell the property to balance its books.
"The propriety of using capital for operating expenses, I have significant difficulty with," said Cook.
Trustee MaryAnn Mortensen, participating via conference call, said she's concerned about selling the property because the district may need land in the future for a works yard or new board offices.
Also making things a little harder to understand is that while the Dec. 18 presentation had 28 line items for potential savings, that number has been reduced to 22, as any issues involving personnel have been rolled into a staffing adjustment category.
Tuesday night's presentation now shows the district looking for approximately $568,000 in staffing adjustment savings in addition to the $138,000 already realized.
One item that appears to have been taken off the table is $64,000 in savings from the district potentially not funding four special needs students for another year at the district.
Trustee Lisa Graham fought vigorously against that item at the Dec. 18 meeting, saying the district has an obligation to help those students instead of trying to shift the responsibility to an external agency such as Community Living B.C.
"This is only one per cent of the special needs allocation," said Graham. "I believe this really places the board in a position of jeopardy."
Sommerfeldt also confirmed that $5,000 in potential savings from changing a Welcome to Kindergarten program won't be realized because the district has already ordered the materials for the program.
Another item not discussed Tuesday was how much the SD40 Business Company will contribute. At the Dec. 18 meeting, the district anticipated $200,000 in additional contributions from the company, but that item was not part of the 22 items presented on Tuesday.
"We, as a board, should not be asking the business company to produce another $200,000 contribution," Cook said Wednesday morning. "That's something the business company has to determine and present to us."
Business company chief executive officer Brent Atkinson is out of his office until Feb. 5 and Cook said he doesn't expect an update from the business company until mid-February.
New Westminster school trustees are expected to make the final decisions on their cuts on Jan. 29 at their regular school board meeting, which has been moved up to 7 p.m. in New Westminster city hall council chambers.
"Tuesday night is going to be a night of reckoning for us," said Cook. "It's not going to be easy. There are implications of making a decision or delaying a decision. There are still a lot of question marks."
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