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Jobs cut in unanimously approved school budget

Jobs were cut and reserves were drained in order to balance the Comox Valley School District's 2014/2015 budget.

After wrestling with a $2.16-million shortfall in its operating budget of $74.5 million, the Finance Committee brought the annual budget bylaw (totaling $84 million) before the Board of Education Tuesday. The board voted unanimously to approve the bylaw.

Job cuts were unavoidable this year, district secretary treasurer Russell Horswill said after the meeting.

"In prior years we had reduced travel and supplies accounts and things of that nature. This year we were forced to be looking at reducing staff to achieve the savings," he said. "The vast majority of the reductions this budget cycle were people.

"We sought to balance the effect across the budget, so we saw reductions in instruction, administration, operation and maintenance and transportation. And, we also sought to have a balanced effect on the various types of employee groups between teachers, support staff and administration."

Twenty-three FTE (full-time equivalent) teaching positions and 23 FTE support staff positions were cut. Horswill added the actual head count will be significantly higher as a number of staff work part-time, but he couldn't say how many people could be laid off, as the district is still going through its annual staffing processes.

District enrolment is expected to decrease by 240 students come September, which accounts for a reduction of 10.5 FTE teaching positions out of the 23 FTE positions to be cut. The enrolment decline, according to Horswill, is linked to a large graduating class this year combined with a projected enrolment of fewer kindergarten students.

Still, with the enrolment decline taken into consideration, teacher-to-pupils ratios will need be adjusted due to the teaching job cuts. Seven FTE teaching positions will be cut at the secondary level, which Horswill noted are spread through six schools to ease the impacts. Also, curriculum support teachers — who support other teachers but don't directly teach students — will drop from 9.9 FTE positions to four FTE positions.

Meanwhile, district reserves were depleted in order to balance the budget.

"This budget uses all of the district's operating reserve so at the end of the 14/15 school-year, the district operating reserve will be nil," said Horswill. "We have a local capital reserve which is fully spent, and ... there's about $110,000 left in the restricted capital, (which requires ministry approval to spend).

"So, both capital reserves have substantially been spent and the operating reserve is projected to be zero at the end of the next school year."

As teachers and government attempt to hammer out an agreement by June, the district's Finance Committee has determined that paying for any sort of wage increase with no new government funding is not feasible, according to Horswill. He also pointed out CUPE BC K-12's two-year agreement — which included a government-negotiated wage increase school boards had to find money to pay for — ends on June 30, and this union is at the bargaining table now, too.

"There's no budget for any form of contract increase for the teachers or the CUPE support staff," said Horswill. "So, the Finance Committee discussion has been around that any costs associated with a contract would (need to) be fully funded by the Province."

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