Conservative Comox Valley trustees consider virtually balanced budget

Taking a conservative approach, the school district's secretary-treasurer is looking at a pretty balanced budget for next year.

Taking a conservative approach, the school district’s secretary-treasurer is looking at a pretty balanced budget for next year.School District 71 recently received its preliminary funding announcement for the 2011-12 school year from the Ministry of Education, which allows staff to move forward in completing the 2011-12 annual budget.”While the announcement speaks about a rise in funding of $44 per FTE, in reality, we have fallen back into funding protection and will basically receive the same funding as 2010-11,” explained secretary-treasurer Len Ibbs. “Fortunately, our planning to date was based on that amount.”Ibbs told trustees it is interesting to note that the Ministry of Education only gave the district half of the amount it allocated on the holdback grant for 2010-11 — $88. “We could have expected that the whole amount would have been added into the per-student allocation, as it is likely to occur again in 2011-12 unless there is quite an upsurge in student enrolment,” Ibbs wrote in his briefing note to trustees. “They have also removed half of the formula transition funding, and the balance will be gone in 2012-13.”The one piece about the funding picture that still remains unclear is how the ministry is going to continue with the education guarantee money, which pays for adult students who have graduated, according to Ibbs.”Even in the year we’re in, they still haven’t really clarified exactly what we’re going to get,” he said. “As the operating grant manual points out, that funding is separate from the grants and doesn’t come through these grants, and it is discretionary, so that sort of raises alarms when you hear those words from the ministry. It also pointed out funding protection, which we’ve fallen back into, is also up for review and is not guaranteed for the future. Those are two things as we move down the road with the 2011-12 budget to keep in the back of your mind.”There are quite a few variables that impact staff’s ability to forecast its funding accurately, which has led staff to be quite conservative, noted Ibbs.”For the current year, we are still expecting to come in on a balanced budget,” he said.Projected increases in expenditures for the 2011-12 year include increased costs for staff pensions and the Medical Services Plan, increased WorkSafe costs, staffing for full-day kindergarten, and carbon offsets and Hydro increases, explained Ibbs.Projected decreases in costs include reductions in support staffing due to consolidating Brooklyn and Cape Lazo schools and staffing reductions due to declining enrolment, for a net increase in costs of $202,000.Changes in revenue projected include the increase in holdback funding from the ministry and reductions around the Conseil scolaire francophone rent as it moves out of Cape Lazo for a net increase in revenue of $201,515.This leaves the district with a projected deficit of $485. “As we’re looking toward the 2011-12 budget year, it’s looking pretty good,” said Ibbs. “The current year we’re in is looking pretty balanced off. As we move into building 2011-12, the way we have it set up is we’ve made it pretty much in balance as well. We’re actually in a pretty good spot overall.”At the end of 2010-11, the district will have a $1.5-million operating surplus, and the district can pull in local capital reserve to help ease the transition over the next several years, explained Ibbs.”If things don’t change a great deal over the next couple of years, I think we’ll be in a pretty good spot, he said. “After the 2013-14 year is when we actually hit the level in terms of student population. If the ministry still funds us on that per-pupil basis as they have in the last 10 years, it will be a lot easier to build budgets.”writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com