After months of dealing with a looming $2.2 million deficit, the New Westminster board of education passed a near-balanced budget at its meeting on Feb. 28, but that doesn't mean the district is out of the red.
Board of education chair Michael Ewen told The Record the budget will change between now and the end of the year.
"I can't say it's going to be balanced," he said on Friday morning. "We are counting on a number of things to happen."
Putting together the amended budget was a scramble for assistant superintendent Al Balanuik, who is doing secretary treasurer Brian Sommerfeldt's job while he is on medical leave.
The current budget has a small $5,000 surplus in its operating budget, but a $218,000 deficit in the capital budget, and does not include the controversial sale of a portion of land the district owns in Queensborough.
"You can run a deficit on capital, provided you secure the permission of the ministry," Balanuik said, explaining how the district would be able to bypass a mandate that school boards are required by law to pass a balanced budget.
At Thursday's meeting, Trustee Casey Cook asked Balanuik if the district met Ministry of Education requirements to pass the deficit on the capital portion of the budget - which covers construction and maintenance of schools.
"You've got a deficit of $218,000 that seemingly doesn't meet the requirements of the ministry," Cook said to Balanuik.
"(There is) an entry here that says we can," Balanuik said, referring to an email from the ministry. "We need to make the request of a ministry official; we've done that, and we are awaiting a response."
At Thursday's meeting, Cook also declared a conflict when the district dealt with the portions of the budget that dealt with CUPE support staff because his daughter works as a special education assistant in the district.
Cook left the room during the CUPE portion of the budget. Cook was the only trustee to declare a conflict, though other trustees - including David Phelan and Ewen - have family working in the district.
Trustee James Janzen was the only board member to vote against portions of the budget and said he did so because he doesn't believe the budget should be separated into different sections, which is something the school district did in order for trustees, who felt they were in a conflict, could vote on parts of the budget.
The district's overall enrollment was lower than expected. The total enrollment at this point is 6,673 - 146 fewer students than anticipated; however, the school year is not yet over and the adult education numbers will likely jump with May enrollment.
The board held the special meeting Feb. 28 to deal with the amended budget, which has been a challenge to put together, not just because of Sommerfedlt's absence, but also because the board was facing a $2.2 million deficit for this year. Additionally, the district is still dealing with a surprise $2.8 million deficit from last year, which it must repay.
The board brought in consultant Joan Axford to review its books last fall, and she uncovered the looming deficit for this school year. As a result, the district has cut services, staff and supplies in order to offset the shortfall.
The final budget for the year must be passed by the end of June.