Dollars focused on students – October 10th, 2013

Thank you for contacting me with your question about CBE budgets.

The 2013/14 budget saw for the second year a total redesign of CBE’s central services. The expense for the administrative portion of the budget is now 2.8%, instruction is 79.3%, operations and maintenance 11.9%, transportation 3.7% and external services 2.3%. External services includes things like international student services and adult learning.  Administrative services include central services that support schools and student learning as well as governance costs.  In the same spirit, CBE Trustees voted to reduce their own salaries, cut out their parking allowance and reduce their professional development funds. I don’t know of too many corporations the size of our large school system with 230 sites that operate on such a lean administrative budget.

As a result of all of the above, CBE was able to give to schools directly a 2.0% increase in their budgets to try and minimize the impact of the provincial cuts in funding on students and classrooms. I know that most schools needed another 2.1% to maintain status quo given cost increases caused by projected enrolment growth, negotiated salary increases for unionized employees, grid movement for unionized employees, and  inflation. When almost 80% of the budget is teacher and support staff salaries and benefits, these costs form a huge budget allocation that is directly related to students in classrooms.

A significant portion of CBE expenses are non-discretionary and this creates a challenge which limits the options available for cost reductions. Administrative expenses include a higher proportion of non-discretionary costs like fixed costs such as insurance and a higher proportion of increasing costs, than other parts of the budget.

Cost reduction requires long term planning if done well. It is difficult to do this when school boards are denied predictable budget cycles. The province originally promised school boards a three year cycle of 1%, 2% and 2% increases. In last spring’s provincial budget, the 2012/13 year’s 1% was clawed back by the elimination of the fuel price contingency fund and AISI funding. This year’s cuts eliminated the promised 2% increase.

The goal of the school system is student success and as a trustee I want to utilize resources in the best ways possible to ensure that each student is offered the opportunity of a learning environment in which they learn best. This is a tremendous challenge given the unpredictability of funding. It is a testament to the learning environment created by dedicated teachers , staff and focused leaders that in recent test results, CBE students outperform the province at almost every subject and grade level.

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