The Central Okanagan Board of Education has adopted an operating budget of $303,663,762 for the 2022-23 school year.
The final adoption vote was held at the June 22 board meeting in order to meet the school district’s June 30 deadline to submit a balanced budget to the ministry of education.
But some trustees were still frustrated by having to account for a $3.3 million budget shortfall.
Trustee Norah Bowman opposed the budget adoption, saying the provincial government has under-funded the school district, in particular not accounting for inflation in added operating expenses for the school district in the coming year.
Trustee Amy Geistlinger voted in favour of the budget but said she did so while still having concerns about some funding cuts and the impact they will have on the school district.
Kevin Kaardal, Central Okanagan Public Schools superintendent/CEO, said absorbing $3.3 million in spending cuts was done by spreading the impact across the board while preserving a commitment to student services and teaching resources.
One of those casualties was custodial services. While the initial budget reduction of seven full-time equivalent positions was ultimately reduced to four, overspending on casual labour to replace FTE vacancies still meant a further 3.5 position spending reduction.
Kaardal said the school administration has worked with CUPE officials on the cuts, saying the school district has led an “open and transparent” policy in addressing the overall budget shortfall.
Board of education chair Moyra Baxter told trustees the budget cuts have been debated at the school district committee and board levels for months dating back to February, along with a public consultation process to identify the priorities of parents for local education spending.
“We may not like this situation but as trustees, we are elected to make hard decisions to meet our mandate of a balanced budget,” Baxter said.
Baxter said the board can vote to submit a deficit budget in protest, but the precedent has already been set where the education ministry would respond by essentially firing the school board and appointing an administrator to balance the budget.
“I am willing to sit here until midnight and look at other ideas for how we can balance the budget. But in absence of that, at the end of the day, we have to make some difficult decisions. That is what we are elected as trustees to do,” Baxter said.