Abbotsford school district facing $3.5 million shortfall

District looking to cut costs, increase revenues to bridge budget gap.

The Abbotsford school board must bridge a $3.5-million budget gap for the coming year, due in part to a province-wide directive to cut administrative spending.

The district will hold a public information meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m., at which the public can review a preliminary version of the 2015-16 budget and ask questions.

That preliminary budget won’t include trimming, but district secretary-treasurer Ray Velestuk said available options will be discussed at the meeting.

The district currently has nearly $177 million in expenditures on its books. To get that figure down, Velestuk said the board will have to look at a range of ways to decrease costs.

“We’re looking at things that are outside the classroom,” he said. That goes beyond cost reductions at the administrative level, as the district will review non-classroom programs and services and consider reductions or ways to streamline or share them. The district supports numerous post-curricular activities, in-school services like counselling and special events.

“We have to make some fairly big changes,” he said. “I don’t think it’s insurmountable, but we have to change how we operate. It will be different after July 1 than what it is today.”

The board will also look at its revenue sources, including tuition for international students, and fees for transportation and facility rentals. The district is currently projecting a total deficit of $5 million. Of that, the district had previously anticipated spending $1.4 million from its accumulated surplus on programming. But that still leaves the district with around $3.5 million more in expenses than revenues.

In February, the B.C. government ordered the province’s school districts to find a total of $29 million in “administrative efficiencies” in their upcoming budgets. Abbotsford’s share of that for 2015/16 is about $1 million. (A second round of ordered cuts next year will force the district to shave an additional $900,000.)

Another $1.4 million of the shortfall is due to a lack of “holdback” funding from the province. That money may materialize, but Velestuk said much of it will go towards funding the province’s “Next Generation Network” initiative, which aims to improving internet service in schools around the province.

The rest of the deficit – about $1 million – is due to a range of escalating expenses, the largest of which is teacher salaries, which increased by about $600,000 over the previous year.