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Saanich school trustees vote on budget

May 02 2012

Saanich school trustees are slated to vote tonight on a balanced budget package that calls for more international students and a longer spring break.

The district expects to lose nearly $1 million in grant money next year when enrolment drops by 250 students.

It also faces rising energy and fuel costs that flat funding from the B.C. government fails to cover.

The budget pressures have forced the district to continue to look for savings while finding new ways to boost revenue.

"We can't hope for someone to come to our rescue, so we have to figure out how to form a sustainable budget and how to build our revenues," said board chairman Wayne Hunter. "So that's the challenge."

This year, the district will consider moving to a two-week spring break in March 2013 as a way to save $150,000 and align with other jurisdictions.

The proposal calls for eight minutes to be added to each school day the rest of the year to make up for the lost week.

Barry Mosher, a parent of three with two children at Deep Cove Elementary and one at Bayside Middle School, disputes that adding a few minutes a day is as valuable as an entire week of schooling.

Mosher also argues that the move downloads costs onto parents, who would have to take time off work or pay for additional childcare during that week.

"The savings that they're talking about here is very small compared to the overall budget," he said. "And yet the cost to parents can be huge."

Mosher also suspects that the board's projected savings are overblown.

Hunter, however, said the board has to find a way to balance its $69-million operating budget.

"If the board adopted the two-week spring break, we're accountable to bring all the information back to people the following year," he said. "I just have not seen any other district return to one week."

The budget proposal recommends increasing the cap on international students to 350 from 300 as a way to boost revenue.

Saanich Teachers' Association president Sean Hayes said the budget also projects a loss of about 11 teaching jobs, mostly due to declining enrolment.

"That's probably a better news scenario than we've had in recent years," he said. "In years past, we've had a declining-enrolment teacher cut and then additional teacher cuts to make up for a budget deficit."

He noted, however, that three jobs would be lost due to Bill 22, which eliminated district class-size averages.

Hayes said the district argues that it was hiring teachers and splitting classes unnecessarily to meet the average. But he said the new rules would make it easier for classes to be bigger next year, "and that's a grave concern."

lkines@timescolonist.com

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