Trustees pass ‘belt-tightening’ 2011-12 budget

Many cuts come with the Langley School District’s budget for the upcoming year.

Many cuts come with the Langley School District’s budget for the upcoming year, reflecting the belt tightening needed to remove roughly $4.5 million from the system this year to help reduce the school district’s deficit of $13 million.

The new budget of $157,616,539 is over $400,000 lower than the amended budget from 2010-11 presented in February, and has helped to create an operating surplus of over $2 million to help pay off the deficit.

Secretary-treasurer David Green presented the preliminary budget Tuesday night. It was later passed by the board, with all board members backing it, with the exception of Trustee Rob McFarlane.

“The approval of this annual budget bylaw for 2011-12 is what I believe another important step on our road to recovery and towards a school district that is once again stable and secure,” Trustee Alison McVeigh said.

The majority of cuts in the revised budget have been made in services and supplies. That portion of the budget is now nearly $2 million smaller than the amended budget of 2010-11.

This includes areas such as student transportation, which has been cut down by nearly 30 per cent from $70,360 to $49,344 and rental and leases, which has lost 72 per cent of its budget.

“It’s a very difficult process, especially given the fact that we have to create surpluses for the next four years to retire our deficit,” Green said.

Meanwhile, money spent on teacher and principal/vice-principal salaries has increased from $75,708,114 to $76,163,906. There is also an additional 23 per cent increase in benefits cost on top of this.

McFarlane says he cannot support the budget due to one “fatal flaw.”

He believes the $160,000 cut in the reading recovery program will hurt students and have negative ramifications in the future. The reading recovery program takes the lowest achieving Grade 1 students and brings their reading and writing skills up to the average level of their grade. Currently, 20 to 22 per cent of Grade 1 students use the program, and McFarlane fears that cuts to it will mean that many struggling students will not get the extra help they need and will have a harder time achieving success in the future.

“I don’t think that it’s educationally sound. I think it’s about the last place we want to cut because if children can’t read successfully in their primary years, it’s a huge uphill battle trying to learn anything beyond reading and writing after that,” McFarlane said.

“So educationally I have concerns with it, and obviously if we get these students off on the wrong foot, I think financially in the long run we end up spending an awful lot more helping them down the road then the $160,000 I believe we are saving by almost eliminating this program.”

In retrospect, McVeigh stated that the board has had to make some very difficult decisions with the budget, and after careful consideration and deliberation, it believes the right moves have been made.

“It’s been a very difficult journey for everyone involved, and everyone has been impacted by the challenges that have resulted from the deficit and from the other funding and downloading costs that we have had to absorb,” she said. “It’s not easy and it certainly does take time, but together we are making progress.

“Most importantly, we’re continuing to see improvement in many areas of student achievement, and that is what we are all about. And that in my mind is what matters most.”