Chi­nook School Divi­sion ends the 2017-18 fi­nan­cial year with smaller than ex­pected deficit

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

The Chi­nook School Divi­sion's fi­nan­cial re­sults for 2017-18 were bet­ter than an­tic­i­pated with a smaller deficit, but fu­ture chal­lenges still re­main with re­gard to fund­ing of in­struc­tional costs.

A spe­cial meet­ing of the Chi­nook School Divi­sion Board of Ed­u­ca­tion took place on Nov. 26 to ap­prove the au­di­tor's re­port and the an­nual re­port for the pe­riod Sept. 1, 2017 to Aug. 31, 2018. Rod Quintin, the Chi­nook School Divi­sion's chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, spoke about the re­sults af­ter the meet­ing.

“For the most part we were on or un­der in all ar­eas of our op­er­a­tion with the ex­cep­tion of fa­cil­i­ties,” he said. “About $1.95 mil­lion less of a deficit than what we ex­pected. So the deficit ended up around $4 mil­lion in­stead of $5.95 mil­lion.”

Ac­tual build­ing op­er­at­ing ex­penses were higher than the bud­get amount. He noted that en­ergy ex­penses were a chal­lenge due to the cold win­ter and higher than an­tic­i­pated costs.

“But for the most part ev­ery­thing else went bet­ter than planned,” he said. “We watched our ex­pen­di­tures very closely last year so that we could make sure we weren't over bud­get.”

The sav­ings and the lower deficit was the re­sult of a con­certed ef­fort by ev­ery­one in the school divi­sion.

“Ev­ery­body pitched in, whether it was the board and their ex­penses or the staff and re­duc­ing PD [pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment] ex­penses or even in trans­porta­tion, where we fi­nally real­ized some of the sav­ings from buy­ing right­sized buses and their con­sump­tion is less than the big­ger buses that we had,” he said. “So it was re­ally all through­out the en­tire bud­get spend­ing plan.”

A sig­nif­i­cant change dur­ing the 201718 fi­nan­cial year was the end of the school divi­sion's in­volve­ment with ed­u­ca­tion prop­erty tax. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties used to col­lect the ed­u­ca­tion prop­erty tax and for­ward it to the school divi­sion, but since Jan­uary 2018 the money is paid di­rectly into the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment's gen­eral revenue fund.

“It re­ally changes the na­ture of our bal­ance sheet,” he said. “So we don't have any large re­ceiv­ables for prop­erty tax any­more. That's all been as­sumed by the prov­ince and now we get pri­mar­ily a grant. ... So far it's been very pos­i­tive for our cash flow. We're happy with that and we don't have the work re­lated to look­ing af­ter the prop­erty tax that we used to have.”

The largest por­tion of the Chi­nook School Divi­sion's deficit in 2017-18 was re­lated to the amor­ti­za­tion costs of prop­er­ties.

“It's an amount of dol­lars that are shown as the value of the prop­er­ties that we have that de­pre­ci­ate a lit­tle bit ev­ery year,” he ex­plained. “About $800,000 or $750,000 was the amount drawn on our un­re­stricted re­serves, which would be our ac­tual cash re­serves. So that's the bulk of where we draw our deficits from.”

The school divi­sion ben­e­fit­ted from sav­ings in two ar­eas re­lated to staff ex­penses. Sick leave costs were less than ex­pected, which made a big dif­fer­ence.

“We al­ways build in a lit­tle con­tin­gency for staff, teach­ing staff in par­tic­u­lar,” he said. “It's one of those ones where you never know with 400 plus teach­ers what your ex­pe­ri­ence may be around long-term sick leaves and we didn't have the long-term sick leaves that we rea­son­ably should have over time. It does cy­cle, so we're in a bit of a low point in the cy­cle in terms of those types of leave.”

An­other sav­ing was due to changes in the way the school divi­sion han­dled the ap­point­ment of sub­sti­tute teach­ers dur­ing times when teach­ers were away from their class­rooms.

“A lot of it was due to our re­duc­tion in pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, where they weren't out of the schools, and a lot of it was due to their ef­fort to just find ways to ei­ther sched­ule their ap­point­ments dif­fer­ently or cover off in­ter­nally. That was a plan that we put in place last year that was at least for last year quite suc­cess­ful. We saved about $200,000 on that par­tic­u­lar ac­tiv­ity alone.”

There were no sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tions in teach­ing staff dur­ing the 2017-18 bud­get year. That only hap­pened for the cur­rent 2018-19 bud­get.

“The changes we had last year would have been the cen­tral of­fice type staff where we had roughly 34 FTEs [full­time equiv­a­lent] dif­fer­ent be­tween what was the year prior to that and last year, but they would have been in­cor­po­rated into the bud­get as it was,” he said. “So we're all busier, there's no doubt about that, but we've man­aged to get through and ev­ery­thing has gone fairly well.”

Quintin cau­tioned that the cut­back in ex­penses for pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment of teach­ing staff can­not be sus­tained in fu­ture bud­gets.

“We have been say­ing at length to the min­istry that we can't sus­tain this for long,” he said. “We know that we have to con­tinue to build our ca­pac­ity. We know that we need to start to rein­vest in pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment as we go for­ward. This was more or less our year to re­ally try and cut our costs, but we have not elim­i­nated those par­tic­u­lar costs. We've just de­ferred them.”

For the mo­ment the school divi­sion has been able to achieve a cost sav­ing on pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment through a com­bi­na­tion of do­ing less of it and do­ing things dif­fer­ently.

“A lot of the costs re­lated to pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment are travel re­lated and if they're trav­el­ling then there's sub­sti­tutes,” he ex­plained.

“So if you don't have the day where you bring in a bunch of teach­ers, you don't have the travel costs, you don't have the sub­sti­tute costs, and that's the bulk of PD cost, but we know we have to do some­thing.

“I mean, this can­not be sus­tained for the fore­see­able fu­ture with­out adding more money back into the PD. It might look dif­fer­ent, it might be more site­based as op­posed to cen­tral­ized. We haven't quite got­ten there yet, but that will be some­thing that we will def­i­nitely be do­ing.”

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