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More pain with no gain for Richmond School District

Job cuts expected as B.C. government contributes to budget shortfall pegged at $4 million

In what is becoming somewhat of a right of spring, yet another round of job cuts and costs savings within the Richmond School District are lurking ominously around the corner.

The district is looking at an estimated budget shortfall of $4 million, a quarter of which is being forced upon it by the Ministry of Education, as part of Richmond’s share of the $29 million in non-teaching, administrative cuts it requires from school districts across B.C.

The rest of the reduction in funding is expected due to a projected decline in enrolment of around 500 students for this coming school year — accounting for $2.5 million — and another $500,000 for inflationary hikes for costs outside the district’s control, such as a six per cent increase in BC Hydro rates, and higher MSP costs for employees.

It all looks pretty bleak, but it’s not an unfamiliar position for the district to be in, said Mark De Mello, the district’s secretary treasurer. However, De Mello says it’s getting increasingly harder to find required savings each year.

“We’ve been making cuts for so many years that there is really no low-hanging fruit anymore,” De Mello said.

“We’ve made painful cuts before and I’m sure whatever cuts we have to make again will be painful.

“But those are things that our district has always found a way to try and deal with in a proactive manner.”

With the project number of fewer students, De Mello said Richmond could need as many as 20 fewer teachers.

Most of those positions, as in past hunts for budget savings, comes through attrition with retirements leading the way.

While that affects the number of jobs within the district, it should not impact the delivery of services, De Mello said.

But 20 less teachers only covers about half of the $2.5 million in the ministry’s drop in funding.

The remaining shortfall is spread out over administrative, operational and non-teaching costs.

“It’s like you’ve got a $4 million block of concrete and we’re chipping away a little bit here and there, and hopefully what we end up with is a system that’s strong and stable and still doing a good job for our students,” De Mello said.

Luckily, the anticipated loss of students this September is concentrated mainly in the secondary school population.

If the enrolment decline included elementary schools, De Mello said there would likely be little or no requirement to reduce the number of teachers locally.

To help counter the shortfall, De Mello said the district is expecting to draw an additional $250,000 in revenue from its international student program.

It is also hoping to expand on its energy cost savings, but just how much more it can reduce consumption is limited since local schools and administration buildings already implement conservation measures.

The district has until mid-April to gather a game plan of cuts and submit it to the ministry by the end of June.

School board chair Eric Yung said he takes issues with the government’s constant requirement for cuts when it is currently posting budget surpluses.

 “When everyone else is belt-tightening I can understand the economies are necessary,” he said. “But you have to ask yourself when does education get more resources?”

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