School District 71 is looking at how to use unrestricted surplus funds in its budget. The largest component is being earmarked for costs associated with its review of school boundaries. File photo

Comox Valley’s school district surplus to support boundary review costs

Board of education passes spending plan but only in principle to give it flexibility

A transfer to the school district’s facility reserve is the largest priority on a list of items for its unrestricted surplus for the 2018-19 year.

This money is to be used in the event of changes to schools resulting from the current review of school boundary catchment areas.

Secretary-treasurer Nicole Bittante submitted a report on the surplus spending plan to the trustees for their board meeting in November.

The district had an operating surplus for the school year of $5,330,580, according to audited statements. However, part of this falls under internally restricted surplus, for which the district is already committing to fund. Of the total, the restricted portion is $2,135,208. This amount is broken down into several items to which district has to direct money, such as unspent money from a mental health grant and several district programs and initiatives. The largest portion is the almost $1.7 million going to the board operating reserve fund.

“As you know, there is a board policy around a board operating reserve,” Bittante told the trustees. “A certain percentage of the annual budget is put aside every year.”

There is also $250,000 for portables and furniture. Another $145,025 is net school surplus, which as restricted surplus is redirected back to the same item.

“Schools can carry forward their surpluses, so we always restrict their surpluses,” Bittante said.

This leaves $3,195,372 as unrestricted surplus.

“Senior staff got together and talked about the $3.1 million and what we should be doing with that money,” she added. “We should be spending it on our kids and our schools. The caution with surplus funds is it is one-time money, so when we make a recommendation, it is that these funds are spent on one-time expenditures.”

The facility reserve will take the largest portion at $2.4 million. This is to provide money for potential facility work that could be required as a result of the boundary catchment area review the district is conducting right now.

“It is likely the district is going to have to spend some money,” Bittante said.

RELATED STORY: Survey response to school catchment review already strong in Comox Valley district

She said the board could vote on whether to approve the spending plan recommendations at that time or perhaps only consider approving it in principle, depending on the catchment review outcome. The board opted to approve the plan in principle to give the district more flexibility in response to the catchment review.

Other suggested expenses include $200,000 to be set aside for classroom items such as furniture, projectors or blinds. There will be a one-time amount of $160,000 for a backhoe replacement. As well, the district is putting aside $150,372 for the continued implementation of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phones for schools. This technology allows for calls to be made over broadband connections instead of regular analog phone lines.

Beyond these, there are several items under $100,000, such as grounds upgrades ($80,000), fine arts support such as choir risers and shells ($50,000), the installation of automatic door openers in schools to improve accessibility for students with physical limitations ($30,000), commercial dishwashers at secondary schools as required under FoodSafe ($30,000), along with lighting upgrades, computer system upgrades, flooring for kindergarten classes and earthquake preparedness supplies for schools.

RELATED STORY: Enrolment continues to rise in Comox Valley school district

School districts put together two budgets each year, including a preliminary one based on projected enrolment for a coming school year and a final one that incorporates the Ministry of Education operating grant based on actual enrolment at the end of September. The surplus is what is left over at the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

“We’ve had a large surplus for a few years now,” Bittante said.

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