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School district predicts $1.2M budget shortfall

Nine teaching and seven CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) support staff positions could be eliminated to help the Mission school district balance its budget this year.

Also on the chopping block are almost two full-time equivalent (FTE) principal/vice principal positions, half an exempt staff position (such as administrative assistants or staff at the school board office) and the summer school program for this year.

The cuts would save Mission Public Schools (MPS) $1,512,600, and cover its anticipated shortfall of $1,242,100. MPS would be left with a $15,500 surplus after $255,000 is put towards its operating deficit, which currently sits at $505,193.

Mission school board chair Edie Heinrichs expects the operating deficit will be paid off in 2016.

“It’s not happening as fast as we wanted, but it was quite an inheritance for us.”

MPS began accumulating an operating deficit in 2004, explained Heinrichs.

The deficit increased year after year and reached more than $1.4 million in the 2011-2012 school year. The district worked with the provincial government to develop a repayment plan that same year when the new board was elected.

“In the time we’ve (current school board trustees) been in, we’ve never overspent what we received from the government, and didn’t add to the deficit,” said Heinrichs.

Instead, the board has been making substantial cuts and changes in order to pay back what is owed.

The majority of this year’s projected shortfall is a result of declining student enrolment ($411,000), CUPE contract increases ($170,000), and the cost of benefit increases, such as Medical Services Plan, to all staff ($155,000).

School district officials are predicting a reduction of 55 students in the school district next year. The district receives about $7,472 from the ministry of education for every student enrolled.

“It was expected,” said Heinrichs, who noted it is an improvement over the past few years when the decline has been closer to 100 students per year.

The salary increase to CUPE workers was negotiated by the government, who left absorbing the cost to individual school districts.

“Nobody on the board resented it (the negotiated CUPE contract) because they haven’t had a raise in so many years,” said Heinrichs. “What we didn’t appreciate is the government negotiated it, but didn’t back it up with any money.”

While the current board has been “doing a good job of retiring debt,” Mission Teachers’ Union (MTU) president Mark Bradshaw said laying off teachers will reduce the number of resources for students.

“Administration has been cut to the core bone,” explained Bradshaw. “Class sizes are up, and the number of special needs students in a classroom is up.”

The maximum number of students in a Grade 1-3 classroom is 24, and the maximum number of students in a Grade 4-12 classroom is 30, but there is no limit to the number of special needs students in a class, said Bradshaw.

“When class size was part of the collective agreement, the max number was three special needs students in a class.”

Bradshaw also pointed out only two or three teachers should be laid off as a result of having 55 less students in the district. Administrators will have to step in to do some of the teaching, he said.

Cancelling summer school will also take away opportunities for students to make up for lost courses, commented the MTU president. “It puts students in a position of not getting enough courses on time to graduate.”

Not running summer school would save the district $50,000. In the past, the summer program has been run out of Riverside College on Dewdney Trunk Road, but last year there were only five FTE students who registered, said Heinrichs, noting the high cost could not be justified.

Students who are serious about taking a class outside the regular school year can sign up with Summit Learning Centre (www.summitlearningcentre.ca), which offers courses online.

The budget has been presented to school district partners, such as the district parent advisory council and the unions, and will be presented to the public at a meeting on June 3 at the school board office (33046 Fourth Ave.) at 6:30 p.m. The budget is expected to be approved at the June 17 public board meeting at Fraserview Centre (32444 Seventh Ave.) beginning at 6:30 p.m.

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