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Trustees want more deficit recovery options

New Westminster school trustees are upset a list of suggested savings by senior administration to recover a $2.8 million deficit didn't provide enough options.

At a board of education meeting Tuesday, superintendent John Woudzia presented a list of more than 25 ways the deficit could be made up, although the total still comes up $76,000 short.

Board chair Michael Ewen said on Wednesday that Woudzia wasn't willing to submit any options requiring any staff reduction in the middle of a school year. For instance, Woudzia did not look at lengthening the school day to get cost savings from reducing the school year.

The board directed Woudzia to produce more options by next Tuesday's board meeting.

"In our discussions before the meeting I told him all the options should be on the table," said Ewen.

Trustee MaryAnn Mortensen said Woudzia's list didn't give trustees any choices because all 25 suggestions would have to be approved just to come close to erasing the deficit.

"We saw a shopping list [Tuesday] night, and the shopping list was short of everything," said Mortensen on Wednesday. "I would have liked to have seen a much broader list … We need an additional $76,000 and it defies logic to say this process was a consultation if the only options are the one option that was presented."

She also noted there was no explanation of what some of the individual cuts would be compared to the overall budget for those items, making it difficult for any meaningful input from the trustees or the public.

"Everything has to be brought forward," said Mortensen. "It's meaningless to say we'll cut $15,000 from this budget when you don't know what you spend on it [overall] and what goes into it."

Woudzia's list included an anticipated $700,000 from the Ministry of Education in holdback funds it usually distributes to all school districts midway through the school year.

Woudzia also proposed selling unused property the district owns in Queensborough. Although the land has been assessed at $1.8 million, the district's portion, if it was sold at that price, would be $450,000 with the rest going to the province.

However, Mortensen said the district needs to keep the land to use as a potential maintenance yard when New Westminster secondary is replaced.

The district is not flush with land, she said, so finding land for a works yard down the road will be difficult.

"We're literally deferring this issue to another board. And we can all recognize that not planning for the future is what has gotten us into this position in the first place. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results and that's what we would be doing," said Mortensen.

Ewen, however, doesn't believe Queensborough would be a good place for a works yard because of access issues for district vehicles, and the land won't be needed for a future school.

"I don't think it would serve any educational value, and I don't think it would be a good spot for a maintenance yard," said Ewen. "I don't think it's a practical solution, but that being said we need to come up with a solution [for where to put a future works yard.]"

Woudzia's list included several suggestion to defer costs, which will mean burdening future boards, Mortensen said. Those include $250,000 for the district's portion of a replacement skate park when NWSS is rebuilt, $75,000 in equipment replacement, and $40,000 in the payout of support staff's banked overtime.

Woudzia also suggested a reworking of the district's participation in the May Day festivities could save $16,000, but did not elaborate on what the details of the changes would be.

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