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Kelowna  

School cuts coming - but where?

The Central Okanagan School District knows it will have to cut costs over the next two years, but it’s unclear at this point how much belt-tightening it will be forced to do.

School boards across the province have been told they must find $29 million in savings next year, and slightly less the following school year. But until the province provides more information, board chairperson Moyra Baxter says they can’t plan for the cuts.

“What I can say is that we don’t have the full information yet. We haven’t received our budget allocation; we usually get that in the first couple weeks of March.

“But we also know that the provincial government does expect school boards to cut $29 million this year – they call it 'finding savings.'”

Until the province announces how it will allocate the amounts for each school district, things are up in the air. The one thing Baxter is sure of is that it’s going to be another tough year of covering extra costs that are downloaded to the districts and not covered by the province, such as increases to MSP payments.

In addition to higher MSP premiums, electricity costs continue to climb as hydro rates are raised – although she did point out that lower fuel prices will help with school busing costs.

During Christy Clark’s luncheon appearance in Kelowna last week, the premier suggested school districts find back-office savings, possibly in administration.

“We’re very lean with our administrative costs,” Baxter responded on Thursday.

“I don’t know what that actually means, and anything you cut is going to affect students. That’s the business we’re in. It would be like saying a hospital has to make cuts, but it isn’t going to affect patients.”

No matter what happens, Baxter says the Central Okanagan doesn’t expect to receive any less money than it did last year, but any increase will also go toward raises negotiated last year for teachers.

“We have to fulfill our contractual responsibilities, so we expect that any extra money will probably be needed to go to employee costs,” she says.

“We’re going into our budget deliberations soon, and it’s going to be extremely difficult again. We pride ourselves on providing innovating programs, and you just hate the thought of stopping some of the things we do, such as giving teachers time to collaborate and talk. It really helps the students.”

Other possible cuts could include dual-credit programs the school district has with Okanagan College and BCIT, however, it’s still too early to say until the district sees the figures for its bottom line.

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