A $1.8-million budget deficit and the decision to close Sundance elementary school is creating emotional turmoil among School District 61 trustees.
Last week, the board voted 5-4 to relocate Sundance’s 58 students to Lake Hill elementary in Saanich. The move will save the district next fall about $316,000 annually.
“We’re in a no-win situation, in that we have a deficit that needs to be addressed,” said Peg Orcherton, SD61 chair. “Under the school act, boards are not allowed to file deficit budgets.”
Orcherton said the Sundance closure was an emotional, difficult decision made harder by continued provincial funding reductions. The suggestion by some trustees that the decision could still be reversed is now doing more harm than good, she said.
“It’s with great consternation to see what some of the trustees are doing, because it’s giving false hope to the parents and students of Sundance,” Orcherton said.
A minority of trustees tried unsuccessfully this week to call a special meeting to again discuss the school closure. The board also voted this week by email on a motion to notify the Ministry of Education about the school closure, a regular practice for administrative bylaws, Orcherton said.
But some trustees are frustrated with the expedited decision.
“We had four days to consider other alternatives,” said SD61 Trustee Diane McNally. “The process of this board is so rushed, it’s very difficult to understand all the financial information.”
The SD61 board still needs to approve more than $1.5 million in budget reductions before a final budget vote April 23.
“Any cut is a difficult cut,” Orcherton said. “Our budget is 88.9 per cent salaries and benefits, so that only leaves us with 10.1 per cent for services and supplies, where we need to make tough decisions.”
A list of recommended options for reducing the deficit are available at sd61.bc.ca, and include closing the district’s resource centre, eliminating school learning mentors and relocating the Girls Alternative program.
Several public meetings are being held to garner public input before the final vote, beginning tonight (April 2) and on April 9 at S.J. Willis Alternative school, 923 Topaz Ave., beginning at 7 p.m. Pre-registration is required.