When School District #8 adopted the 2013 to 2014 preliminary budget earlier this month, it was not without significant debate — and the debate continues.
Out of nine trustees present at the May 7 regular board meeting, three voted against the budget — Sheri Walsh, Anette Hambler-Pruden and Bill Maslechko who represents Nelson. Lenora Trenaman abstained.
Maslechko said he and his colleagues voted against the preliminary budget because they wanted some time between getting information from district staff and having to vote on it.
“A number of us wanted a little bit of time to digest that, maybe have some clarifications and to ask some questions,” he said.
The board discussed delaying adoption of the budget, but went ahead to ensure staffing decisions were made in a timely manner according to collective agreements.
“In the end, that’s the budget we’re going to live with,” Maslechko said. “But there’s always difficulty with the budget because you never have quite enough money to do the things you want to do.”
Required by law to submit a balanced budget to the Ministry of Education, the process included input from District Parent Advisory Committee, CUPE and Kootenay Lake Teachers Federation along with nine trustees as part of the finance committee. There were over 25 meetings held.
Maslechko said more time should also be taken between introduction of the budget and adoption and he believes this will happen next year.
“That’s been taken into consideration by the staff and next year they will come out with their recommendations giving us additional time to query, ask and clarify,” he said.
The preliminary budget includes a reduction of five full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching staff throughout the district. The district says it has made an effort to maintain current levels of teacher staffing despite projected declines in enrolment of 144 students.
Tom Newell of the Nelson District Teachers’ Association has concerns considering cuts to teaching staff were made this school year as enrollment increased.
“We’re down about 26 teachers this year over the previous year so a further cut of five or six, we think they’re really cutting too far into the teaching staff,” he said.
The NDTA recommended the board look for funds at senior management levels instead of where effects on students are more directly felt.
“Right now, with money so tight we need to get as many teachers in schools, in classrooms, in front of students as possible — do everything we can to maximize those numbers and then do everything else after that,” he said. He understands the board is in a difficult position trying to pass a balanced budget.
“There is no doubt we have documented for the last seven or eight years the tremendous underfunding by our provincial government,” he said. “There is no doubt that the number of teachers in front of students has declined disproportionately — but then what we’re finding is the district is doing the same thing… We think the funds could be redistributed better for sure.”