School board reflects on financial future

The Rainy River District School Board passed its 2002-03 budget at a special meeting here Wednesday night, but concerns surfaced over cuts it might be forced to make next year if the province doesn’t change its funding formula.
Salaries and transportation increased the board’s expenditures by $550,000 but the province only provided an additional $200,000 to meet those costs.
“As you can tell, there’s something a little wrong there,” trustee Judy Eluik told the board.
As first reported in Wednesday’s Times, the board will drain $200,000 from its reserves to cover these expenditures and continue current special education and transportation programs, which cost more than the province allocates.
This will avoid a deficit, but leave just under $74,000 in the working fund reserve.
“I’m not happy we had to use reserves to balance the budget but we don’t have a choice,” Eluik said.
Trustee Dan Belluz asked what would be done if there wasn’t more money from the province before next year’s budget.
“Next year we won’t have the opportunity to use the reserve. What plans are in place to address this before next year’s budget?” Belluz asked.
Education director Warren Hoshizaki said they are looking at a number of alternatives, including beginning the budget process before Christmas to ensure that if cuts have to be made, they will have time to make that decision.
He added the report from the Ministry of Education’s task force on the funding formula—which determines how much money school boards receive and is based on 1997 cost estimates—is to be completed by November.
As soon as the school board examines this report, it can begin making budget plans. And if program cuts have to be made next year, Hoshizaki said they wouldn’t be easy.
“This year, the trustees looked at the ‘Reading Recovery’ program which helps Grade 1 students learn to read,” he said after the meeting.
“It gives them a great grounding in reading but it is a very expensive program. It would be very difficult to make that decision,” he remarked.
The “Reading Recovery” program costs the board $315,000 annually.
“Our continuing goal is to provide our students with the best possible educational experience,” trustee Ron McAlister said.
“However, in order for every board in Ontario, including our own, to maintain an acceptable program level, it is essential that Education minister Elizabeth Witmer carry out an immediate realistic reassessment of the funding formula,” he added.
“She is on record as understanding our problems. We shall see if action speaks louder than words,” McAlister added.