Parents and educators alike should be happy to hear the school district has more money to spend this school year on staff and services than initially budgeted.
At the latest meeting of the North Okanagan-Shuswap board of education on Oct. 16, the final meeting before new trustees are elected, adjustments to the 2018-19 budget were released to the public.
Many of these adjustments come as a result of increased enrolment in the district, in addition to surplus revenue from the 2017-18 budget. These adjustments include service and staffing improvements, as well as a 0.5 per cent contingency as mandated by the Ministry of Education. A report on these budget changes was made available and can be found on the district website, www.sd83.bc.ca.
The report details an available surplus of close to $850,000. Interim Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Hunt explained additional revenue has become available since the preliminary budget was approved in June 2018. This includes an unrestricted surplus from the 2017-18 budget of $230,952, an increase of 36 full-time equivalent students for $259,805, the preliminary budget contingency of $240,000 as well as increases in special education enrolment and Indigenous education enrolment for a total of $848,357.
To begin with, the report identified key items to invest in at the beginning of the school year. Funds were earmarked for hiring new teachers, organizing professional development sessions and enlisting clerical support for the district. Diverting surplus funds to these areas lifts pressures off the budget in the early stages of the 2018-19 school year.
In addition, several recommendations were made to the board regarding how the remaining surplus might be spent. These suggestions include hiring additional counsellors, indigenous education support staff, behavioural specialists and other support staff. A curriculum inquiry project is also mentioned, along with improvements to grounds maintenance and snow removal.
Another item brought up at the meeting is that the district will be incorporating an audit committee into its financial process, and the fall budget adjustments recommend setting aside funds for this addition.
The Ministry of Education has recommended school districts incorporate these committees into their financial oversight structures in an effort to further transparency in regards to finances within school districts.
The committee will ensure compliance with the financial provisions of the School Act and Regulations and provide independent oversight to the local board of education.
The audit committee joins five additional trustee standing committees, including policy, labour relations, education directions, finance and facilities, and partner group. Upon the election of the new trustees, the plan is for one trustee to be on each of the committees, with the same trustee to sit on the audit and finance & facilities committees.