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Balancing Surrey school budget 'trying,' says trustee

Surrey school trustee Terry Allen chairs the Education Budget Committee. -
Surrey school trustee Terry Allen chairs the Education Budget Committee.
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Unlike many B.C. school districts that are facing deficits and drastic cuts, Surrey has managed to balance its budget for the upcoming school year.

But it has hardly been easy, said Trustee Terry Allen, who chairs the Education Budget Committee.

The $600-million preliminary operating budget for 2013/2014 is comprised of $573 million in provincial government grants and $15 million from district revenue from things like international student tuition and renting out school buildings.

An additional $12.3 million was found in unspent money from this year, such as funds set aside for snow clearing. And another $4 million in savings is coming through so called "operating efficiencies," such as reducing expenditures and some job reductions. The district says no one will be losing their job per se, but the overall decrease in 45 positions – including 25 teachers and 17 support staff – will be mainly through attrition.

The budget is based on a projection that there will be 69,798 students in local schools this fall, an increase of just 37 full-time students from this year. While Surrey has in the past benefited from steady increases in student numbers, enrolment is predicted to be "flat" over the next three years, meaning only modest increases in per-pupil grants from government.

Despite student numbers staying relatively stagnant, said Allen, costs continue to rise.

"The board and district must, of course, work within our funding limitations," said Allen, "and this is very trying as we continually face employee benefits and utility cost increases, as well as the requirement to absorb carbon offsets and costs incurred through increased absenteeism."

More than 85 per cent of the budget goes toward instructional and classroom support, while two per cent is spent on district administration. The rest goes to maintenance and transportation in the Surrey School District.

Final adjustments to Surrey's budget may be made after Sept. 30, when actual student numbers are tallied. By law, B.C. school districts must submit a balanced operating budget by June 30 each year.

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