Wednesday April 10, 2019 ~ WEST SHORE [Updated April 11]
~ by Mary P Brooke, West Shore Voice News
Sooke School District 62 (SD62) is deep into their budget decision-making season. Another budget update was delivered by SD62 Secretary-Treasurer Harold Cull at the board’s Resource Committee Meeting last night, April 9.
Back in February the board heard priorities as developed with input from trustees, executive and stakeholders (such as teachers, CUPE staff, and Principals/VicePrincipals). This month they’re crunching the numbers in committee for consideration by the board, and in May there will be a further update for board review, explained Cull.
A fresh approach to the budget process is in hand under SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson — with this 2018-2019 academic year being his first in the top executive position. Rather than looking at all expenditures then whittling away personnel positions or specific resources as might be required to achieve the required balanced budget, for the 2019-2020 budget it’s about recognizing core requirements (salaries, facilities and classroom operations, bus transportation, and more teacher prep time at the elementary level) then making decisions within areas that might be considered discretionary.
“We’re taking a different direction this year by engaging with stakeholders to see what they feel should be priorities in the budget,” says SD62 Chair Ravi Parmar. “It’s truly been a collaborative process and it’s great hearing different perspectives. Principals and Vice Principals and other stakeholders are sending us clear messages about what they want in their schools, and we’re going to help make it happen,” Parmar said this week.
All school district budgets must balance to zero (no deficit or surplus allowed by the BC School Act). The overall SD62 budget is comprised of operating, capital and special purpose.
The total estimated operating budget for 2019-2020 is about $114.5 million — that includes a core of about $104 million (about $74.1 million for statutory obligations such as salaries, and about $29.9 million in operating expenses). Within the $29.9 million for non-statutory operating expenses, the current draft budget shows $10.6 million of that as ‘discretionary’ expenditure where board and stakeholder priorities may be expressed — with about $700,000 of that recently added to the total (since the previous budget discussions) due to student population growth.
The Resource Committee that looks at the budget in detail is chaired by SD62 Vice-Chair Dianna Seaton. Other trustees who attended the committee meeting last night were Bob Phillips, Margot Swinburnson and Allison Watson, in addition to representatives for teachers, CUPE and the Principals and Vice Principals. SD62 Chair Ravi Parmar is an ex-officio (non-voting) member of the committee.
The biggest evident change in SD62’s proposed ‘discretionary’ expenditures is a proposed shift to spending about $1.1 million each year on information technology (IT) requirements. That’s up from $250,000 per year including this year.
Stinson is quick to explain that IT is not just computers but also software, network speed and access, data management and security. It’s about aiming for teachers, classrooms and administrators to have the technology and Internet/wireless access they need for optimal function in the learning environment. That might include committing to on-going equipment leases instead of buying hardware and software then stretching out its use which tends to diminish having state-of-the-art capabilities and capacity.
Also within the $10.6 million discretionary considerations are the Early Invention Program and the reading recovery program (assisting with reading and other skills to stave off more complex and costly programs and supports later on); student support services supplemental funding; funds for additional Facilities staff; bus transportation for at least one more route this fall given student population growth (which means another bus, another driver, plus additional maintenance), additional district positions to deliver on priorities and growth; the work of the existing K-12 curriculum department; principal/vice-principal mentoring; clerical review; comprehensive school health initiatives including SOGI implementation and staff wellness support; emergency preparedness; the existing careers program; library assistant placements; supplies for English Language Learning and English Second Dialect; operational supplies for Academies (sports, dance, etc); and supplies for the elementary counselling department.
Discretionary does not necessarily mean dispensable, but points to areas where ongoing decision-making can be made within budget realms as needs change or specific situations require customized solutions.
Where leadership and current draft budget concur are for bus transportation, the K-12 curriculum department, and the existing careers program.
However, some interesting variances between what the leadership team survey expressed as priorities and what the number-crunching presently proposes is much more for IT (quadrupling the current annual expenditure), a bit less (but still a substantial $2.6 million) for student support services supplemental funding; significantly more for restitution training; a tad less for Safer School Program positions (but still at $75,000); less for additional facilities staff (which presumes the current level is close to adequate); early intervention reading recovery (draft budget shows more than leadership had indicated as a priority); emergency preparedness (as a new category, for just $10,000); three times more for library assistants now showing in the draft budget (more for flexibility than increase); English Language Learning supplies (draft budget punched that up to $25,000 compared to $5,000 from the leadership input); and sport academies (showing $10,000 in the draft budget compared to $34,000 last year and zero in the leadership review recommendations — academy fees are possibly covering more of the necessary costs).
Growth & portables: The SD62 school district that serves over 10,800 students who live in Langford, Colwood, Highlands, View Royal, Metchosin, Sooke and Juan de Fuca (including East Sooke and west of Sooke up to Port Renfrew) has schools in Langford, Colwood and Sooke. About 238 more students are expected to register by September 2019.
There are presently 59 portables (standalone modular buildings on school property) in the system this year, with five more coming for September 2019. While land is being purchased and schools being designed or built, there is an immediate need for portables to accommodate 1,300 students. “Even with portables our facilities are at 100% operating capacity,” says Cull. “We’d be at 114% without portables,” he told the Resource Committee last night.
As for school replacement, the top three on the list (for several years now) are Millstream Elementary, Saseenos Elementary and Sooke Elementary. However, Cull explains that in a growing school district where funding for new schools is being requested by SD62, the Ministry of Education is less likely to replace existing schools.
The strongest need for more classroom spaces is the John Muir Elementary catchment area in Sooke, said Trustee Swinburnson at the meeting last night, and the committee concurred. The long-proposed Sunriver Elementary school within the Sunriver subdivision in Sooke may not be the best location to serve where the families with young children are situated in the local Sooke area.
Most elementary schools in the district have seen their computer labs converted to regular classroom space, as a way of keeping up with the times (i.e. wireless access and use of smartphones not requiring a specialized room for computer use), explained Superintendent Stinson. He says that in some of the middle and secondary schools there can be regular instruction delivered in a room equipped with a computer lab setup, which doesn’t impede instruction (less so if it’s an elementary school age group).
The next opportunity for public input on the budget will come up Tuesday April 23 at 7 pm at the SD62 public board meeting in the administration building at 3143 Jacklin Road. www.sd62.bc.ca