Chi­nook School Divi­sion over­spends on fa­cil­i­ties and main­te­nance

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Swift Current - BY MATTHEW LIEBEN­BERG— mlieben­berg@prairiepos­

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.”

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