Chinook School Division overspends on facilities and maintenance
Even though all contingencies were removed from the 2017-18 facilities and maintenance budget, the Chinook School Division was still in the red at the end of the year.
The facilities and maintenance status report was presented at a regular meeting of the Chinook Board of Education, Oct. 9.
The 2017-18 facilities and maintenance budget was $10,816,832. The main budget items were salaries and benefits ($3,730,587), amortization ($2,708,664), and operations ($4,377,581).
The deficit was $559,268 or 0.05 per cent of the budget. The largest portion of this deficit amount ($315,818) was due to operations expenses. The other deficit amounts were $220,677 for amortization and $22,773 for salaries and benefits.
This was the first time in 11 years that the facilities and maintenance operating budget reported a deficit of 5.1 per cent. In the previous decade some funds were still remaining in the operating budget at the end of each year.
According to Rod Quintin, the Chinook School Division's chief financial officer, the division's approach to maintenance has been changing due to budgetary restrictions.
“We're moving more towards keeping just the critical systems and the building envelopes sound, and we're not putting as much emphasis on the things like aesthetic improvements in the buildings,” he said after the meeting. “So they slowly start to degrade over time. The buildings are safe, the roofs are good, the boilers are good, that type of stuff we're keeping on top of, but there is just not the resources to spend the extra money that would make the interior surfaces look better. Over time you have to do that, but right now we just don't have those resources available to us.”
He is concerned that a deterioration in the aesthetic appearance of facilities might result in less respect for school property.
“There's lots of studies that show how that impact is,” he said. “The worst it looks, the less you respect it and we're not in that place yet, but it is a disturbing kind of path that we're starting to head down.”
The school division employs 13 staff members in the maintenance department and there are 35 full-time and 26 part-time facility staff members. As a result of budget restrictions the maintenance department's staff component was reduced with two full-time equivalent workers in 2017-18 and work priorities had to be realigned.
The maintenance department still has the capacity to deal with most of the workload and it maintains a manageable backlog of work requisitions. In some cases facility staff will take on tasks such as painting and maintenance department staff can then focus on other tasks.
“We're just able to do less with our staff than we used to be able to do,” Quintin noted. “If we really have to do something and we don't have staff, then we contract it out and of course there's a cost associated with the contracting piece.”
Staff have been spending significantly less time on playground maintenance and the emphasis is now more on being a generalist.
“We've really had to move towards everybody being a bit more of a generalist instead of them being a specialist,” he said. “So whatever the job needs to be get done, you put people on it and they might not be doing their specialty that particular day, but the job is the important part.”
The Chinook School Division is facing an emerging issue in smaller communities that are struggling to maintain their ageing potable water and sewer infrastructure. The school division has to comply with increasingly strict water quality standards and as a result it is currently supplying or has provided bottled water in the past 24 months to schools in seven communities.
“We're up to I think four sites now where we're going to probably on a permanent basis have drinking water delivered,” he said. “That's a cost that's over and above what we've already been paying for to get the other water into the building and we really have no choice, but it's an added cost and my concern is that there is more frequency and volume in the number of schools that are starting to see this as a problem, whether it's short term or long term. ... The towns and the villages have limited resources themselves. So they're in the same predicament as we are, except for us we have a higher standard that we have to be meeting in terms of looking after the students.”
The school division is supplying a reverse osmosis system at one school and three schools have wells that require maintenance and testing. Chinook is also spending more money on sewer issues. Four schools have septic tanks and three have to be regularly pumped out.
“We are seeing more issues around sewer systems,” he said. “We've been investing more money, time and effort into maintaining the sewer system too so that we can get that away from the building. We're kind of getting caught at both ends of that spectrum around the water and sewer, both of which are absolutely necessary to run the building.”
Quintin believes the discussion about the maintenance budget needs to shift from a focus on the efficient use of funds to a consideration of the sufficiency of funding.
“We've done all of the things we can do around efficiency of funding,” he said. “Now we have to start to look at is the funding that we're getting sufficient, and we're starting to see that getting less and less sufficient for us to be able to operate our buildings and do all the other things that we need to do as well. So at some point that discussion needs to happen with the ministry around sufficiency of funding.”