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Surplus to spare pain for a year

I suspect they didn't have much choice. The bad news is that Delta school trustees are facing a $2 million deficit for the next school year.

I suspect they didn't have much choice.

The bad news is that Delta school trustees are facing a $2 million deficit for the next school year. The good news - and there hasn't been a whole lot of it when it comes to school budgets in recent years - is that one-time funding from Victoria last December has created a significant surplus.

Trustees are proposing to use this surplus to offset the deficit and avert cuts that have become commonplace during the budget bloodbath ritual every spring. The move seems like a no-brainer: Use money left over from the current school year to offset money you're short for next year.

You don't have to be too far along in Delta's education system to do that math, but is the situation as simple as it seems?

A similar scenario has been playing out at municipal hall in recent years with a different outcome. Delta councillors have also dealt with budget surpluses, but have been reluctant to use them to fund ongoing costs (read salaries or programs) thereby reducing property taxes, instead opting to funnel that money into one-time capital projects.

The rationale expressed any time that decision is questioned is that ongoing services financed by surplus money disappear when those dollars aren't there any more. As much as cutting taxes is an attractive and politically expedient approach, it has the ability to produce a situation civic officials don't want to find themselves facing down the road.

Thankfully for them, it's not a question of cutting services.

School trustees, who have perfected the art of budget cutting over the last decade, don't have the luxury of thinking about tomorrow when it's raining today.

Delta's school system will be underfunded to the tune of $2 million next year but won't feel that impact because of the surplus. Should a similar deficit face trustees next spring, and a surplus isn't anywhere to be found, the school board could be forced to undertake $4 million in cuts in order to balance the budget.

In essence, trustees might just be buying an extra year for certain services, but I don't see where they have a lot of options.

They could follow the municipal path and use the surplus for computers, books and other one-time costs, but it's hard to justify those expenditures at a time you're chopping classroom support.

The approach trustees plan to take this spring could well mean more pain down the road, but at least they'll avert it for the coming year.

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