The Delta School District will be releasing its draft 2022/2023 budget at the end of the month.
On Friday (April 1), the district published an updated timeline for its budget process, pushing back the release of the budget recommendations and subsequent board meetings by two weeks.
The change is “to allow additional time to fully consider feedback gathered from district departments and through the recent public engagement process,” according to a post on the district’s website.
Public release of budget recommendations will now happen the morning of Thursday, April 28 (pushed back from Thursday, April 14), followed by a special board meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 3 where delegates, including members of the public, can give feedback on the draft budget.
Those who wish to speak at the meeting, which will be held via Zoom, must email Shaney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The public can also provide feedback by emailing email@example.com before Monday, May 2, or complete a short survey that will be available on the district website (deltasd.bc.ca) once the draft budget has been released.
The budget is set to be adopted on Tuesday, May 10. All meetings are open to the public and viewable live on YouTube.
Speaking at a virtual public input session on March 8, Delta School District secretary-treasurer Nicola Christ said the district would likely be facing a budget shortfall for the 2022/2023 school year. At the time, the Ministry of Education had yet to announce the coming year’s funding allocation; that information was released to districts March 11.
Christ said the district was estimating an operating budget of $173 million — up $3.5 million from 2021/2022 — with a 1.8 per cent shortfall (about $3.1 million) caused by a decrease in operating grant funding due to a decline in enrollment, as well as an increase in benefit costs and the carry-forward effect from reserve spending to make up the shortfall in the current year’s budget.
“I wished we could start this new engagement process with an easy budget, but these are not ordinary times and we unfortunately have a difficult budget year ahead. This may not be a year where we can offer any choices; instead, we may have a very hard decision to make,” Christ said.
“However, we are committed to balancing next year’s budget in the most student-centred manner possible.”
After minor surpluses in 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 ($57,000 and $64,000, respectively), the district balanced a $582,000 budget shortfall in 2020/21 without any staffing reductions.
However, in 2021/2022 the district faced a $2.7 million shortfall as a result of a reduction in provincial funding, a decrease in investment income and a $2-million increase in district costs.
That shortfall was addressed through a $1.87-million reduction in operating costs, including the elimination of certain contingency funds, and $854,000 pulled from the district’s funding reserve, the latter of which as a one-time funding source will have “a carry-forward shortfall impact” on the 2022/2023 budget.
“Reserve funds are where we look to when we need to find dollars that are not in the budget,” Christ explained.
In previous years, the district could count on revenue from its international student program to “top up our reserves,” Christ said, with the program bringing in a record $12 million in 2018/2019 and $11.4 million in 2019/2020. That money allowed the district to spend about eight per cent more than the available ministry funding on student programs and district facilities.
“Often, initiatives were within reach even after budget cuts due to these available one-time reserve balances.”
International student enrollment was severely impacted by the pandemic, with the program netting the district just $3 million in 2020/2021, down from $6.6 million in the year prior and $7.3 million at the program’s height in 2017/2018.
“While we hope this will change over time, that time may not arrive for another couple of years,” Christ said.
Eliminating the contingency funds to balance this year’s budget coupled with reduced money flowing back into the funding reserve means reduced budget flexibility for 2022/2023 and “reserve capacity.”
As well, an anticipated decline in enrollment will mean fewer dollars from the ministry next school year. Delta is expecting to have 293 fewer full-time students in 2022/2023 — 15,293 compared 15,586 this school year.
Assistant superintendent Nancy Gordon said the district has more than 1,400 students graduating from high school this spring, calling it “a bit of a bulge” compared to the average, while its likely just over 900 children will enter kindergarten this fall.
“In conclusion, we have developed increasing funding needs and enhanced services expectations on a significantly tighter budget and with decreasing reserves,” Christ said. “The appropriate financial approach going forward, based on these facts alone, is a more cautious one.”