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Comox Valley trustees find money to pay for support staff wage increases
The Comox Valley Board of Education looked back into this year's budget and found an additional $314,000 to fund support staff wage increases.
Comox Valley School District superintendent Sherry Elwood told trustees last week the district's savings plan has been drafted and sent off to the Ministry of Education.
When looking for the savings, the goal "was to try and keep the savings draw away from students, (keep) things as far away from the classroom as we could keep them," noted Elwood, who pointed out the 2013/2014 budget had already been balanced and approved by the board in the spring.
The district faced a $1.45-million shortfall when it set out the 2013/2014 budget. The finance committee balanced it by way of $826,000 in budget adjustments and a withdrawal of over $600,000 from its reserves.
The savings plan was due Oct. 15 by the Ministry of Education. A 3.5-per-cent wage increase for Canadian Union of Public Employees school support staff, (education assistants, clerical staff, trades, custodians, bus drivers and other education workers), was negotiated as part of the tentative two-year deal reached with government in September. Under the Province's co-operative gains mandate, an employer must find savings within existing budgets to pay for any wage increases.
The deadline for ratification of all local CUPE agreements is Dec. 20.
The $314,000 additional savings in the Comox Valley School District's draft savings plan came from various sources, according to Elwood. WorkSafe BC rates for the school district have decreased meaning slightly lower expenses, there is a vacant district operations position that can be left empty, savings were found in the district's information technology plan and the number of printers in the district can be reduced, according to Elwood.
"We've done those kinds of things, and at the end of the day, we've got fairly close to the $300,000 that we needed, and with the board's permission we will draw approximately $30,000 out of our reserve," she continued, noting districts are only allowed to use reserve funds to find this year's savings.
The Comox Valley School District will be expected to find about $600,000 in savings in the 2014/2015 budget, and the finance committee won't be able to use district reserves.
Meanwhile, the Board of Education voted to send a letter expressing its "concerns" and "displeasure" with the process districts have had to follow to Education Minister Peter Fassbender.
Board vice-chair Janice Caton made the motion, noting she's unimpressed the district was "forced" to find these savings. She said the board has done a good job of balancing the district budget each year and works hard to "best serve our students with the money that we have.
"I'm not arguing over the fact that we do have to find the money; to me it's the process," she continued.
Trustee Rick Grinham, who is the finance committee chair, added he is frustrated about a "lack of clarity" around future funding from the Province.
"We're being forced into a bottleneck here and there doesn't seem to be any resolution," he said, adding soon the finance committee will meet to look at how it can balance the 2014/2015 budget. "We've got to sort out a number of things and find money, but there's no money tree."