Liewicki Leaks: School board expulsion option exists

Nathan Liewicki
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Let’s be honest. Anytime a budget is passed by a group or organization that shows financial numbers in the red, questions will be asked as to why said deficit exists.

Liewicki

If that deficit is in the millions, red flags tend to be raised, especially when a surplus has been tough to come by for more than a few years.

That is precisely the situation the Prairie South School Division (PSSD) finds itself in.

Tuesday, the majority of PSSD board members voted in favour of the proposed 2014-15 budget, which projected a deficit of approximately $3.89 million.

Granted, the 2014-15 deficit is projected to be about six per cent less than the 2013-14, but that is far and away from the final 2010-11 budget surplus of $1.41 million — the last time Prairie South recorded a surplus.

So why is PSSD again expecting to run a deficit during the next school year?

When I examine the division’s financial data — publicly available on its website — and play with some of the numbers, one of the areas that stuck out as a main contributor for the deficit is a decline in revenue.

The division’s total revenue from 2012-13 was nearly $85.7 million. Conversely, in the 2014-15 budget Bernie Girardin, superintendent of business and operations, projected a total revenue shy of $83.3 million. That’s a decrease of $2,435,463, nearly three-quarters of which is attributable to less grant money. Prairie South’s expenses have, however, increased significantly since its last surplus year.

The final 2010-11 budget numbers show the division’s expenses totaled $81.9 million. Even though PSSD projects $1.6 million in expenses will be chopped off of the 2013-14 budget, the 2014-15 budget estimates expenses to be $87.1 million.

Transportation is one of the key reasons for an increase in PSSD’s expenses. The cost of fuel continues to climb and maintenance costs of school buses are also on the rise.

Another of the big reasons, at least since 2010-11, contributing to PSSD’s deficit has been the increase in administration and governance expenses.

Governance expenses have increased 14.2 per cent, but that is nothing compared to the 210 per cent spike in administration expenses. Included in those expenses are the salaries of PSSD superintendents, six of which are north of $135,000.

Think of the number of extra teaching positions the division could open up if they slashed a superintendent or two. I’m not stating that is what PSSD should do, but it’s an option to consider if they want to return the annual budget numbers to the black.

Moreover, I understand it’s not a problem that can be dealt with overnight. It will take two or three years, but Prairie South board members should feel fortunate they are not in British Columbia.

In 2012, a school board in Cowichan Valley, B.C., was expelled under that province’s Education Act when it failed to pass a balanced budget. In fact, that school board approved a budget deficit eerily similar to the one PSSD passed Tuesday: $3.77 million.

The Saskatchewan minister of education also has the ability to dump school boards that pass budgets with deficits, and it has happened in the past, but not in recent years.

Personally, I think this power is one the minister should consider using more often, especially considering school boards should never be in their positions for the money — only for the students. Knowing this power is wielded by the education minister, Prairie South board members might look at making serious expense cuts, including salaries, to bring its numbers back into the black.

@Tagline:Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks

Organizations: Prairie South School Division, PSSD board, Prairie South board

Geographic location: British Columbia, Cowichan Valley, Saskatchewan

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