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School spending down, administration up next year

Howe Sound schools are getting less from Victoria in the coming year, but are planning to make up the shortfall with more tuition from overseas students.

Howe Sound schools are getting less from Victoria in the coming year, but are planning to make up the shortfall with more tuition from overseas students.

But even with more money than last year, the amount spent on instruction will be going down by half a million dollars in 2004/2005.

At a board meeting on Wednesday (June 9), trustees of the Howe Sound School District No 48 passed the annual educational budget, with schools in the district facing a reduction in overall school funding from the provincial government of nearly $700,000, largely a result of an enrolment decline.

The majority of provincial funding to school districts is based on the number of students enrolled. The number of full-time equivalent students in Howe Sound schools is expected to decline from 4401.75 this year to 4,241.5 in 2004/2005, resulting in a loss of $570,980.

The province is also cutting salary differential payments by $250,000 and a $185,000 buffer grant it gave the district in 2003/2004.

The school district will have $350,000 less revenue than it did last year, when it used a surplus from the previous year.

However, the school district's overall revenue will be just over $45,000 more than last year, due largely to a projected doubling of fees from international students from $594,000 this year to just under $1.1 million in 2004/ 2005.

Other revenue increases come from grants for specialized programs, including Community LINK, which offers hot breakfast and lunch programs, and funding for employee future benefits.

As a result, spending for instructional staffing is going down by $535,000, causing concern in local teachers.

However, the board assured the Howe Sound Teachers Association (HSTA) that there would be no teachers given their pink slip.

"There are no teacher layoffs involved in this budget," said Doug Hackett, chair of the Finance Board.

Overall, the money spent on school services is declining 1.2 per cent, while support services including administration are increasing by 4.5 per cent.

The HSTA did express concern over the decline in provincial funding, and also questioned a four per cent increase in the district's administration budget.

"We understand that the board is assuming control over specialized services but we're very concerned about the drop in the regular instructional budget," said HSTA President Carl Walker.

"The District administration budget is increasing whereas the teachers is decreasing. I hope trustees are accountable for that. We're concerned that their priorities are not in the classroom."

Spending will also decrease in special education by $88,000 - a decrease of 2.8 per cent.

The total funding allocated to schools is projected to drop by $1 million in 2004/2005, with some programs being passed from local school control to the district. For example, instead of each school paying for a part-time counsellor to be available for just a short time during the school week, the Board will be funding a full-time counsellor.

The Board will also be paying nearly $70,000 more in international student commissions due to the increase in enrolment.

"In terms of the international program - a lot of districts are envious of us," said Hackett. "The more we expand the program, the more we pay in commissions."