New Westminster school board shaves deficit down

The New Westminster school district has shaved its anticipated deficit for 2012-13 from $2.2 million to $342,000, with the remaining shortfall expected to be covered by revenue believed to be on the way.

It's the first of two major hurdles facing the board—the next big step will be to address last year's deficit of $2.8 million.

On Tuesday, the board of education approved several steps toward reducing the first challenge, and the trustees did it without including the potential sale of a Queensborough property the district owns.

The land has been contentious amongst trustees. In his original proposal to reduce the deficit, superintendent John Woudzia suggested the sale could produce $450,000 for the district. But on Tuesday, the board decided any discussion about the property should be behind closed doors to protect any possible future negotiations.

Some trustees have suggested the land be retained to either house a new school board office and/or works yard, or be used to pay for those facilities, and not to reduce the deficit. Trustee Casey Cook said too much has already been publicly said by trustees, including himself, about the property which could jeopardize a future sale.

A big slice to the deficit budget was reduced quite easily with the board putting $596,000 in provincial holdover money it recently received directly toward the shortfall. Another $709,000 was found in staff adjustments, but the board didn't go into much detail, citing personnel confidentiality for most of it.

It is expecting the Ministry of Education to provide districts across the province with two more holdovers with New Westminster's share anticipated to be $184,000.

The district is also hoping its private business company, which markets services internationally, will be able to contribute about $200,000. Combined with the holdovers, that would be enough to cover the shortfall left on the table Tuesday.

To help reduce the deficit, the board decided to postpone paying its $250,000 share of a new skate park and redeveloped Massey Theatre when a new high school is eventually built, but only until the next fiscal year.

"We were being conservative in trying to put that money away already, but the high school site is several years away from being built," said trustee Jonina Campbell.

The board nixed a proposal to slash May Day funding from $22,000 to $6,000.

"This is an item that needs to stay off the list, but we should pursue outside funding for it," said trustee Lisa Graham. "There's no way I could ever support putting May Day in jeopardy."

Added trustee David Phelan, "This seems to be a short-term solution. My concern is if we remove this funding it will have long-term consequences."

The trustees also held off on a proposal to reduce its use of outside consultants for human resources, a move that would have saved $15,000.

"Our senior administration is already hard pressed to get their work done," said Campbell.

Proposals to reduce transportation costs for athletics by $5,000 and the same amount for field trips were also postponed for future debate.

"This would have a negative impact on athletics and student activities," said Phelan.

Campbell, a teacher in Richmond, wondered why the district was contributing to field trips since other districts don't.

"If it meets learning outcomes we help with costs," said Woudzia. "We may be unique in this regard, but if it meets learning outcomes we will provide support."

Board chair Michael Ewen praised trustees for moving through the proposed list of cuts in about 75 minutes.

"It was a somewhat intense speed-dating process, but I think that went fairly well," he told the board.

Although Tuesday's actions, combined with the expected revenues could take care of the 2012-13 shortfall, the board still must address a $2.8-million deficit from 2011-12, as well as a warning from a financial consultant that if it continues its current practices the district will incur more deficits in the future.

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