GVSD considers spending cuts

Garden Valley School Division Board Chair Laurie Dyck. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Winkler Times)

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Funding cuts to school budgets, IT budget, bus replacements and an emergency staff budget are all part of the proposed Garden Valley School Division budget presented to the public Feb. 28 at Northlands Parkway Collegiate.
Board chair Laurie Dyck told the crowd that the provincial funding only resulted in a 0.4 per cent increase for GVSD, an increase of $120,000
The provincial government has also directed school boards to limit their property tax increases to two per cent. For GVSD that means an additional $399,000 for a total of $519,000 in new revenue.
However, new wages and benefits, operating costs for Pine Ridge School and other operating cost increases had the division requiring $1.2 million in new funds.
That left only one option, cuts to the budget.
“At the end of the day we had more expenses than we had income,” Dyck explained. “We directed senior administration to come up with ideas as to where we could find $700,000 to cut.”
Dyck said that’s no easy task. “That’s a lot of money when 80 per cent of our budget is wages,” she said.
To achieve the cuts the board proposed reducing school budgets by $60,000 (by not giving a cost of living increase), reduce the IT Budget plan by $180,000, eliminate the bus replacement plan to save $274,000 and eliminate the discretionary staff budget of $170,000.
“Our goal was to look at what things can we cut that don’t cut people,” Dyck said. “That was important for us to maintain staffing.”
The cuts will be noticed. The IT budget cut will result in no replacements for laptop computers used in schools. Dyck admitted that some of the laptops are already eight-years-old.
“It’s just putting off a problem because the reality is computers don’t last forever,” she said. “They have a lifespan of if you’re lucky, five to eight years.”
That same issue will result from the proposal to cut the bus replacement plan for the next budget year.
Seven buses in the fleet already range from 17 to 22 years old.
“That means drawing out of our spare fleet to help make routes happen,” she said. “We’re running the oldest average bus fleet in the province.”
Schools will also tighten their belts as their budgets will see no increase. They use that money for everything from supplies to field trip costs.
The Discretionary Staff Budget of $170,000 was set up in the years when GVSD saw massive enrollment increases during the school year, requiring the hiring of more staff between budgets. Dyck said that trend has slowed, making it unnecessary.
Although the board has proposed the cuts, Dyck admits the money they’re saving will still have to be spent in the future.
“It’s just delaying a problem, in that we still will have to replace computers, they’re not just going to magically last forever, and buses don’t magically last forever,” she said.
Making the funding issue so critical is the estimated $493,000 annual operating cost for Pine Ridge School. Normally a tax increase would accompany a new cost like that.
“We have to absorb operating a whole new building and we weren’t given opportunity to be able to tax for that” Dyck said.
The board has decided to maintain certain programs such as the literacy, numeracy and mental health initiatives. “We have a lot of good data showing the impact that it has had,” she said. “It does not seem wise to pull the chute on that simply because we don’t have money.”
Despite the hardship faced by GVSD, the average taxpayer will pay less. That’s because the assessment, thanks to new construction, has risen 2.54 per cent.
That’s a .42 per cent decrease in the education portion of tax bills all around.
That’s a savings of $7.14 for a home valued at $250,000, $8.56 for a home valued at $300,000, $20.62 on a $500,000 business, $41.24 on a $1 million business, $21.11 on a $1.28 million farm and $84.45 on a $5.12 million farm.