Windfall provincial funds help district pay for deficit

The New Westminster school district had a plan for recovering a $521,000 deficit from the last school year, but the board of education ditched most of it following a "windfall" from the Ministry of Education.

Every spring when the province uses enrolment projections to determine its grant money for the following school year it holds back funds just in case some unexpected costs come along. If not all of it is used the ministry distributes it to the districts later in the school year.

On Dec. 9, the ministry paid out its holdback to districts for 2011-12 and it produced $649,000 in New Westminster's coffers. At its meeting Tuesday, the board decided to use about $130,000 to restore staffing and educational programs it was planning on cutting to help cover the deficit while retaining the rest it as a contingency fund.

"This is a nice block of funding we weren't anticipating, especially this early in the year," said district secretary-treasurer Brian Sommerfeldt. "This is the first time they've issued it in the December recalculation."

Prior to what he described as a "windfall," the district had come up with ways to cover the 2010-11 deficit of $521,000 in the 2011-12 budget. To start with, Sommerfeldt said he budgeted for a pay back on a loan to the district's business company of $150,000 even though its CEO Brent Atkinson indicated it will likely be able to provide $400,000 by the end of the school year.

The next part of the plan was to save $137,000 by redeploying other staff to fill vacancies due to retirement, leaves of absence and student movement.

Another $36,000 was to come from covering for teachers on professional development courses, and $32,000 by eliminating "school-wide reads" that establish baseline proficiency in the fall and monitor the progress in the spring.

The plan also called for district supplies to be cut by $68,000 by reducing expenditures on things like paper clips or by deferring equipment replacement and production of marketing materials. Another $150,000 would be reduced by the schools deferring replacement things such as computers.

Taking all those measures would have created a small surplus of $46,000. But with the new-found $649,000 in hold back funds in their coffers, the board decided to reinstate all but $30,000 of the staffing cuts as well as the teacher professional development and the school-wide reads.

However, the trustees voted to go ahead with the supply and services cuts totaling $218,000. Together with the pay back from the business company, that means the district should have surplus of $500,000 left over from the hold back funds, said Sommerfeldt.

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