Victoria school board reinvests district surplus into educational assistants

Trustees unanimously agreed to use a $349,541 surplus from the 2011-12 school year to address class size and composition in 2012-13.

Save or spend?

In response to the outcry from teachers and parents for more classroom support, the Greater Victoria Board of Education uncharacteristically chose the latter.

On Tuesday trustees passed the district’s 2012-13 operating budget, after unanimously agreeing to use a $349,541 surplus from the 2011-12 school year to address class size and composition in 2012-13.

The extra funds will go toward hiring educational assistants and a psychologist to assist with the backlog of psychometric assessments for children up to Grade 3.

As well, they will fund the hiring of support staff to aid the speech and language pathologist, freeing up more time for therapy.

Fewer sick days, more savings than anticipated from energy conservation and more international student enrolment helped create the surplus.

“This is unusual,” board chair Peg Orcherton said of the extra funds. “It was quite delightful.”

Historically, the Greater Victoria School District has used any surplus funds from one year to help reduce the following year’s deficit. Longtime trustee Elaine Leonard, who was previously in favour of applying the surplus to the 2012-13 deficit, brought forward the motion to spend it.

“We are addressing, with the money that we have, the needs that come to us,” Orcherton said.

“We do listen, and that’s exactly why the motion that trustee Leonard had put on the table in February was amended.”

While the board was unanimous on how to spend the surplus funds, differing philosophies toward education advocacy nearly prevented the budget itself from being passed.

Had the document not passed, the surplus would have needed to be spent by the end of the 2011-12 year and would not have been applied to class size and composition.

Five of nine trustees – Orcherton, vice-chair Bev Horsman, Leonard, Michael McEvoy and Tom Ferris – supported the $171-million operating budget.

Trustees Deborah Nohr and Catherine Alpha voted against passing the balanced budget. Trustees Edith Loring-Kuhanga and Diane McNally, who had previously supported submitting only a needs-based budget to the Ministry of Education, abstained from voting on the final reading.

“Every one of us at that table would love to have more money,” she said. “But if (the balanced budget was not passed,) our community, our district, would likely lose its voice on how this district is run and we would have another level of bureaucracy that wouldn’t be willing to listen.”

McNally admitted it would have been a challenge to spend the surplus well by the end of the year. For her, the issue of chronic underfunding took precedent, she said.

“The platform I ran on was based on my convictions on the need to preserve public education and not to go along with planned underfunding from the government.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com

Needs-based budget explained

The school district prepares its operating budget early in the year to prepare staffing.

The final budget isn’t due into the Ministry of Education until June 30. It will be submitted along with a detailed needs budget.

The needs budget is a starting point and is subject to change, depending on how learning initiative funds and any additional grants are allocated.

The document currently identifies the need for about $48.5 million in additional funding in order to provide what board chair Peg Orcherton calls “absolute optimum” funding. The budget advisory committee presents the needs budget to the board for debate May 22.

The goal of preparing such a detailed breakdown of needs in the district – from staffing to supplies – is to strengthen the district’s argument for increased funding. In the past, the board has submitted a “restorative budget” document, based on 2001 operational costs and funding.

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