School Board Budget Passes – News report

Board approval of the 2013-14 School District 57 budget was no rubber-stamp occasion.

Three of the seven trustees — Sharon Bourassa, Kate Cooke and Brenda Hooker — voted against passing the third and final reading of the budget at Tuesday’s public school board meeting.

The three dissenters had concerns the budgeting process did not include budgeting priorities arrived at by SD 57’s expanded committee of the whole, a representative group that includes trustees, senior administrators, teachers, parents, support staff, maintenance and clerical staff, aboriginal educators, and professional student services staff.

“I don’t believe that it did anything to address any of the input we received from partner groups,” said Bourassa. “We went through extreme measures to gather input and had some really good ideas and suggestions and there was nothing in there to reflect that in that budget bylaw. In my opinion, we should have incorporated more of the input we had received into the budget. The two areas that were fulfilled — the continuation of projects and leaving school-based budgets alone — were fulfilled by doing nothing.”

The $140.63 million budget for calls for a $1.79 million reduction in teacher salaries and $2.2 million in total salary reductions for school staff. The school district anticipates 240 fewer students in 2013-14, but the actual tally will not be finalized until late September.

One of the requests of the expanded budget committee was to hire two occupational therapists and one speech pathologist for the 2013-14 school year using the current unappropriated surplus funding to avoid having to cut existing staff levels. That was presented as a motion at Tuesday’s meeting, but was rejected.

“We did receive input from all the groups and each group came out with a few points and of course we can’t meet all the needs to keep everybody happy, but it would have been nice to incorporate some of it rather than none,” said Bourassa.

“The other issue I had was when the trustees met after receiving input from [the committee], the trustees went through the budget in great detail, and I thought that should have been done in a public setting. The transparency of the process was really hampered by the fact the meeting afterwards with the trustees to go through all the budget detail was without the partner groups.”

Bourassa wanted the board to put off approval of the budget to allow more stakeholder input before the final public meeting of the school year on June 25, but was outvoted. Trustees Trish Bella, Tim Bennett, Betty Bekkering and board chair Sharel Warrington all approved the budget.

Had the budget bylaw been rejected, a new bylaw would have to have been drawn up and approved for third reading by the end of June.

In discussing the budget Tuesday, superintendent Brian Pepper said the board did not provide specific directions as to how the expanded committee’s findings would be used in preparing the finalized budget.

The board passed Warrington’s motion to reconvene the expanded committee for the 2014-15 budget process. The committee will identify the positive and negative aspects of the budgeting process and develop recommendations to be considered in future years. While she approved the budget, Warrington said the board needs to find ways to adopt the expanded committee’s recommendations.

“It’s about learning lessons of the process and how we can do a better job on next year’s budget,” Warrington said. “The expanded committee of the whole was a process where we received very important input from our partner groups. The key was to pass a balanced budget at this time. It’s a conservative budget and we’re basing the budget on our preliminary understanding of what our enrollment will look like in September, so we’re keeping it conservative and balanced, and if we need to do any adjusting we’ll do that in December when our numbers are known.”

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