School budget back in black

For the first time in recent memory, North Okanagan-Shuswap’s finances are not in a deficit position

North Okanagan-Shuswap School District treasurer Nicole Bittante was wearing black at Tuesday night’s budget – but the mood was anything but mournful.

The colour matched her assessment of this year’s preliminary budget.

“It is the first time we have been in the black for a long, long time,” said Bittante, noting the school district has usually started its annual budget process in the red – a deficit position. “We are starting with more revenues than cost pressures.”

Due to a number of factors, including an increase in enrolment and additional funds being added by the province in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in favour of the BC Teachers Federation, the school district will be receiving an additional $1.3 million to the upcoming year’s budget.

A large part of this has already been allocated, however, due to the need for providing services to the additional students and other cost pressures outside of the school district’s control, like increases in utilities costs, and wage and benefit agreements.

After fixed costs are factored in, the school district will have approximately $236,000 to invest in the system, plus any surplus left over from the previous year.

The bad news, is that as part of the budget process, a total of $2.5 million in requests for funding have been made.

Official trustee Mike McKay said, despite the rosier financial position, tough choices will still have to be made.

“There’s nothing in this list that is foolish, frivolous, silly or ‘you-gotta-be-kidding-me.’ These are all valid requests, but the level of funding is far lower than the requests.”

Kari Wilkinson, president of the District Parents Advisory Council, says parents are most interested in investing in programs that support vulnerable kids, including identification of special needs, literacy and numeracy.

“We can’t continue to let those slide. We need to be doing whatever we can do to bring those things up.”

The school district also received an ongoing grant of $213,000 for Silver Creek Elementary from a fund to support rural schools.

Silver Creek Elementary had previously been targeted for closure, so the additional funding will keep that option off the table.