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School staff cut to help Surrey balance budget

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The Surrey School District is reducing staffing by 135 full-time positions to help shave $9 million from the operating budget for the next school year.

And while most of those jobs are expected to come largely through attrition, some layoffs loom.

In all, there will be about 49 fewer teachers, 56 fewer education assistants, 27 fewer support staff members such as clerical and maintenance workers and three fewer principals and other professional staff for 2014-15.

Of those, said Trustee Terry Allen, the equivalent of about 30 positions will be layoffs and cuts to clerical and education assistant hours, as well as fewer district helping teachers.

The rest of the reduced staff are expected to retire or leave voluntarily, but will not be replaced.

But with 49 departing teachers not being replaced, Allen said schools will have to adhere even more strictly to class size restrictions.

"Where there was a certain amount of leeway before, there will be very little leeway now," he said.

In addition to staff reductions, the district is using unspent contingency funds from the current year to help balance the $588.5-million budget, in an effort to make cutbacks that would have the least direct impact on classrooms.

“Despite continuous increases in employee benefits and utility costs, as well as absorbing carbon offsets," said Allen, "our board maintains the most efficiently run district in the province and one of the top three districts in the proportion of its operating budget spent directly to support the classroom.

"But really, we don't have anything that doesn't have an impact on the classroom," Allen added.

Nearly 90 per cent of the budget pays for instructional and classroom support, while the rest goes to district administration, maintenance and transportation.

Allen said some of the choices trustees had to make, especially those involving employees, are heartbreaking.

"It's very difficult to make these decisions and it's getting harder every year."

While $572 million will come from the province, $16 million of the 2014-15 budget comes from district revenue sources such as tuition fees paid by international students and rent paid by outside groups to use school facilities.

Surrey pointed out its budget challenges are very different than those of other B.C. school districts. While Surrey has benefitted from rapidly increasing enrolment over the past 10 years (and therefore a steady flow of per-pupil funding from government), student numbers aren't expected to rise much for the next three years. That means funding will only increase modestly, making it unfeasible to maintain the same levels of service year after year.

In the upcoming school year, enrolment is predicted to increase by just 120 students, bringing the total number of students to approximately 70,202.

As well, the district said dipping into surplus dollars from the current year money left over from contingency funds for unpredictable expenses like snow clearing simply isn't a sustainable or reliable way to fund education. While certain school expenditures will be ongoing, the contingency fund will not always exist.

Adjustments may be made to the preliminary operating budget at the end of September, when final students numbers are in, but by law, B.C. school districts must submit a balanced budget to the province by June 30 every year.

 

 

 

 

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