District budget timeline too late for NWSS PAC

The New Westminster board of education is expected to finalize a budget for the 2014-15 school year by the end of April but that's way too late for some parents.

The school district announced a timeline for its budget process last week. It will involve not only balancing the budget but also begin making up for the $5 million deficit it has accumulated. The process involves three regular board meetings and two public sessions culminating in a final decision April 29.

In January, the New Westminster secondary parent advisory council (PAC) called for the district to produce a projected budget that would determine what programs and electives would be cut by mid-February so parents could plan for the next school year.

NWSS PAC president Stephen Bruyneel said it's already too late for some parents to switch school districts for some programs such as International Baccalaureate. The district said in January it couldn't draw up a budget until they figured out how much money they would be getting from the provincial government. But Bruyneel said they should have been able to come up with a good guesstimate of what programs could and could not be retained.

"To be completely honest, trying to understand the process and the rationale for the process is very confusing to me and most parents," said Bruyneel. "Maybe we're looking through a small lens (at NWSS) … [but] why not give us a ballpark budget?"

Bruyneel said he met with new district superintendent and CEO John Gaitpman at the end of February shortly after he took charge in New Westminster. Gaiptman has agreed to come to a NWSS PAC meeting to talk about what's going on but won't be available to do so until April 10.

"I'm really hoping he can come and shed some light on the high school situation," said Bruyneel.

The NWSS PAC also passed resolutions in January calling on all of the district's trustees to resign and for the provincial government to take over. It also wanted a meeting with Minister of Education Peter Fassbender. None of those requests have materialized.

"We're disappointed with that. To look at it realistically, we know that PACs don't have any power. Passing resolutions are symbolic," said Bruyneel.

Preliminary budget information will be revealed at the board's April 1 meeting. There will be public discussions about the budget at the NWSS library on April 9 and 16 (7 p.m.). Trustees will discuss it further on April 22 with a final decision expected April 29.

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