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Budget anxiety takes over school board planning

Uncertainty on behalf of provincial government has leaders worried that not enough money will flow from Victoria to cover basic rise in costs

Turmoil on the provincial political scene could lead to some belt-tightening by the local school district.

Kootenay Lake school district superintendent Jeff Jones says the jurisdiction’s preliminary grant for the 2011-12 school year is “status quo,” with little new money to reflect a projected enrollment increase, or the implementation of full-day kindergarten in Nelson.

“That poses a bit of a challenge when you consider that we need to look at an increase in the average cost of staff,” says Jones. “We are in times of negotiations, and even though there’s a zero mandate we don’t know where that’s going to end up.”

Jones says the district is also expecting operations costs to go up, due to utility hikes and rising fuel prices, which affect everything from heating schools to running buses.

“We’ve seen an increase in costs, yet our grant remained the same. So we’re going to have to deal with that.”

Preliminary funding announcements for the year were made when current education minister George Abbott left the post to run for the leadership of the BC Liberals. Replacement Margaret MacDiarmid (who had been shuffled off the education file only a month earlier) was seen as a temporary fill-in.

“What I’m hearing is this isn’t the usual mode of business here,” says Jones. “I’m hopeful that our politicians will support the needs of public education and recognize that our costs do go up.”

If funding stays the same, Jones says there may be some “hard decisions” in the school district’s future.

“My biggest concern about the funding announcement is that in my opinion it doesn’t really address the needs of all of our students in this district,” he says.

“We have a school district that has a tremendous and diverse array of interest in our student body, and we feel we can engage students more effectively if we can align them with their areas of interest, and that costs money.”

Jones will make his budget recommendations to the SD8 school board April 19, and first and second reading of the document is set for May 31. Third reading will take place June 21, after which the budget is sent to the province for approval before it’s adopted by the school board.