Unspent money from 2010-11 has helped bail out the Surrey School District for the fall school year

Surrey School District dodges deficit

Money saved during 2010-11 helps district balance budget for the fall school year – but situation isn't sustainable, say trustees.

The Surrey Board of Education has managed to balance its budget for the upcoming school year, but trustees warn that while they “dodged a bullet” this year, that might not be the case in the future.

The Surrey School District was anticipating a shortfall of up to $10 million for the 2011-12 school year. However, money left over from the current year totalling about $7.1 million – saved by having spent less than expected on things such snow clearing, light and heat – helped bail the district out of a deficit situation.

While that’s good news today, said Trustee Terry Allen, the situation is one that’s unsustainable and leaves Surrey vulnerable.

“The use of one-time surplus funds to support ongoing expenditures does create financial challenges that will need to be addressed,” said Allen, chair of the budget committee.

Simply put, said board chair Laurae McNally, “In future years, that surplus may not be there, we don’t know. You can’t rely on it.”

McNally said without the savings found this year, there would definitely have been cuts to staff and/or programs this fall.

“We dodged the bullet this year – but you can’t count on dodging the bullet every year,” she said.

Another $3.7 million or so in savings was also found by reassigning resources and reducing various expenditures. Turning out lights and limiting paper has saved much-needed dollars, McNally said.

“They sound like petty little things but they do add up over time.”

Unlike most school districts in B.C., student enrolment continues to climb in Surrey. An estimated 70,360 full-time students are expected to attend local schools in September – an increase of more than 1,000 from this school year.

Surrey’s $570-million operating budget includes the hiring of about 55 more teachers and 35 educational assistants to cover the influx of new students.

By law, B.C. school boards are required to submit a balanced budget annually to the Ministry of Education.

The district has yet to receive any capital dollars from the province. It’s been six years since money was allocated to Surrey to build new school space, leaving thousands of students learning in the more than 230 portables littering local school grounds.

B.C.’s finance minister and Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon promised recently that a capital funding injection is imminent.

McNally says she’ll believe it when she sees it.