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Public input sought for schools budget

More teachers and support staff could lose their jobs as the New Westminster school district tries to cover a projected shortfall of $2.69 million in its 2014/15 budget.

But before the scythe swings, the public is being asked their ideas how to turn the red ink to black.

They can give their suggestions and feedback at any of five meetings in April.

The first was at Tuesday’s regular school board meeting, during which the preliminary budget for the coming year was unveiled.

The projected shortfall in the nearly $61-million budget includes $20,000 in expenses for this fall’s school trustee elections, $100,000 to pay for rising utility rates, $900,000 to cover cost pressures like salary increases, inflation and the declining value of the Canadian dollar as the district’s international programs are conducted in U.S. dollars.

As well, the district has allocated $350,000 to update technology infrastructure like file servers and increasing bandwidth in its schools.

Another $1 million will go to replenishing supplies like library and textbooks as well as office materials.

But, said assistant superintendent Al Balanuik, while the district already saved $235,000 in the first year of its two-year cooperative gains savings plan by cutting about five teaching and support positions, it still has to cut another $200,000.

Trustee Casey Cook said with 89 per cent of the district’s budget being spent on wages and benefits, “it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how we’re going to do that.”

Superintendent John Gaiptman said, “Everything is on the table. Everything has to be discussed.”

But, added Gaiptman, if the public can offer better ideas to achieve those savings, the district will listen.

“It’s important to be able to sit down and engage in a discussion of the future of the New West school district,” he said. “That’s really an important aspect of what elected officials do.”

School board chair Jonina Campbell said opening the budget process to public input will give the district a better indication of what’s important to parents and students.

“We need to find better thought-out decisions for whatever changes we’re making to the system,” said Campbell. “The idea behind this is to find out what do students need and put money into the system.”

Cook expects tough decisions ahead.

“We have to be candid and hear the necessity of what the numbers tell us,” said Cook. “It’s important for people to understand why decisions are made.”

The next public budget consultation meeting is April 9, 7 p.m. at the New Westminster Secondary School library. For the full schedule of meetings, go to the district’s website, http://district.sd40.bc.ca.

 

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