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Deep cuts avoided in school district budget

It’s the first operating budget for the new school board trustees, containing no significant cuts while considering a complex myriad of financial considerations
Secretary treasurer Nicola Chris (left), board chair Val Windsor and superintendent Doug Sheppard at this week’s board of education meeting where final approval was given for the next operating budget. Sandor Gyarmati/Delta Optimist

The Delta School Board on Tuesday approved the district’s operating budget for 2023/24, which has few significant cuts while aiming to move away from a reliance on using reserves.

Trustee Joe Muego said it has taken creativity to produce a budget that has the least impact, but pressures remain.

Trustee Nick Kanakos described it as a good budget, saying several challenges had to be faced including funding labour settlements, higher benefit costs, higher illness costs, technology replacements, inflationary costs and the lingering costs of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said major cuts were avoided, trying to address concerns raised, but addressing them all is never possible.

He added the province this year has implemented a three-year budgeting process aimed at helping to improve financial planning.

During the last three years, Delta has seen a reduction in its reserves, due in part to the pandemic, but they should not be used for ongoing programs, he said.

The budget focused on decreasing program areas that have had limited impact on students, while also mitigating risk and ensuring long-term sustainability by reducing the reliance on reserve funds.

The district will also direct operational savings elsewhere including covering increasing illness costs that had not been budgeted, also with the aim to rely less on reserve funding to cover those costs.

Following a public input meeting on the proposed budget on April 18, the school district made one adjustment by adding a second peer support coordinator for teachers, on a one-year basis, with funding coming from reserves.

Noting it was the first district operating budget for the new school board members, other trustees following their vote commended staff for the complex task undertaken, adding it’s important to note that each dollar decision affects individuals.

Board chair Val Windsor pointed out that it is her 12th budget as trustee which included “roller coaster rides” with difficult decisions having been made. Fortunately, the latest budget avoids having to make those decisions, thanks in large part to the province having increased per-pupil funding, she said.

Windsor added that the district’s administration costs are nearly at the bottom in the province, so it would be very difficult to cut any more from the administration budget.