Be prepared: HST, other pressures will jack school board bills through the roof

By David F. Rooney

While the provincial government has been busy attempting to reassure British Columbians that its planned imposition of a Harmonized Sales Tax will have little impact on them others beg to differ.

Figures drawn up by the BC School Trustees Association and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO), which represents school treasurers, shows it will add $32 million to already stressed-to-the-max school budgets.

When combined with other predicted financial pressures, BC’s schools could face a whopping $293 million increase in costs during the 2010-2011 school year.

And the chances of the province picking up that tab?

“Zip,” said one teacher who declined to be identified.

“That $293 million increase is a worst-case scenario,” Alan Chell, chairman of Revelstoke’s School District 19. “The best case  is for $120.6 million.”

He said that includes not only the $32 million anticipated increase thanks to the HST but $44 million in increased costs due to the implementation of full-day Kindergarten, $43.5 million because of a two per cent increase in teachers’ salaries and $23.1 million due to teachers’ pensions’ increases. It also includes $5.9 million thanks to carbon offset costs, $2.8 million because of Medical Services Plan premium increases, $2.4 due to BC Hydro rate increases, $3.3 million because of Canadian Union of Public Employees trades adjustments, $444,000 in costs charged to school districts by the government for use of so-called SMARTTool software to track greenhouse gas emissions.

The worst-case scenario could happen through the addition of $110 million due to the cancellation of the Annual Facilities Grant, $63 million through the exhaustion of on-time reserves for budget funding, general inflationary costs and unforeseen growth  in special education costs.

Chell said local school trustees are anxious to hear what, if any, additional funding will be made available through the provincial budget in February to offset these anticipated extra costs.

If no new money is forthcoming then school boards everywhere will have to make some very hard decisions.

“The important thing is for people to be aware that this is what’s coming at us,” he said in an interview last Wednesday.

“If the worst case scenario comes to pass we’d have to determine what this means for Revelstoke. We have a system that’s working really, really well.”

Chell said no one is going to jump the gun and discuss potential cuts to SD 19 spending right now, but he indicated that the board does have some options that would not affect the delivery of education to Revelstoke’s children.