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SD54 draft budget has enrolement numbers rising

For the first time in over 10 years SD54 is expecting enrolment to increase next school year.
Secretary Treasurer Dave Margerm presents SD54’s budget. Marisca Bakker photo

Bulkley Valley School District 54 (SD54) presented its draft budget for 2018-2019 to the public last week, although only three people attended.

For the first time in over 10 years SD54 is expecting enrolment to increase next school year.

“This year we are at 1,988 [students], next year we are expecting 2,007,” secretary treasurer Dave Margerm said. “Hopefully the decline of enrolment has stopped and started to go in the other direction. Generally this is a good thing because you are funded per kid, so more kids more funding.”

Enrolment going up is not all good news when it comes to funding, though.

This year’s approximately $22 million operating budget is similar to last year’s. Most of the money from the Province is based on the number of students enrolled in the district and, as usual, the provincial government has given a slight increase per student. However, because enrolment is projected rise, the board loses some funding protection money.

The looming threat of losing funding protection was one reason given for the closure of Lake Kathlyn School a couple years ago. In an earlier facility review report, the idea of a future consolidation of elementary schools in Houston was put forward.

About 86 per cent of the operating budget, or $15.3 million, goes to salaries. Fifty-three per cent of that is for teachers, 16 per cent for support staff, 10 per cent for educational assistants, 10 per cent for principals and vice principals, seven per sent for other professionals and four percent for substitutes. Another $3.7 million goes towards benefits.

There is $3 million dollars set aside for services and supplies such as utilities, computer equipment, insurance and travel expenses.

The draft budget presentation also highlighted some district initiatives such as teacher mentorship programs, new technology, partnerships with Northwest Community College for trades programs, retaining the high school music program and maintaining counselling services as well as continuing to go a million dollars above funding for learner support.

“Special education is a big one; we receive about $1.6 million in special education funding and we spend about $2.6 million in special education. The board can be proud of the fact that we spend about a million dollars more than we get because the board values it and it is important for kids. So as long as the budget can sustain that, we can continue to manage that.”

On top of that, Margerm pointed out that they aren’t expecting to cut any programs next year.

In the budget presentation Margerm also mentioned they are still pushing the provincial government for a new building to replace Walnut Elementary, which is aging and costing the district money to keep it up. He is projecting a new school costing about $25 million, which would have to come from the Province. It has been about 10 years since the board has requested a new school but Margerm hinted that things are looking up.

“We’ve been promoted to start the [proposal] process,” he said. “There has been no public announcement by the Ministry of Education about a new school yet but I think it is coming … but when [is the question?]”

A public consultation will be held with an architect to get feedback on what teachers, students and parents would like to see in a new building if the ministry chooses to fund the project.

It will be held on May 17 at 7 p.m. at Walnut.

“I think it is a promising sign that we’ve been asked to start the process,” added Margerm.

Marisca Bakker

About the Author: Marisca Bakker

Marisca was born and raised in Ontario and moved to Smithers almost ten years ago on a one-year contract.
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