Sickness replacement costs force district to shave expenses

School board approves budget that balances costs against revenues

School District #54

School District 54 has cut expenses to overcome unexpected increases in paying for replacement teachers and other employees owing to sickness among its regular employees.

The result is the district being able to keep its balanced budget as it enters the second half of its budget year.

“Sick leave time was estimated to be $480,000 greater than budgeted for the year,” noted school district secretary treasurer Dave Margerm after submitting financial details to the district board at its Feb. 22 meeting.

As with other employers, the school district was hit with sickness-based absences as the Omicron variant took hold in the latter part of December and into January.

School district officials at the time said the district was hard-pressed to find replacement teachers and had diverted district staffers who do not normally have teaching duties into classrooms to cope with personnel shortages.

The increase in paying for replacements then lead to an amended budget bylaw last week, replacing an original budget bylaw that came into force July 1 of last year. The school district budget year runs from July 1 to June 30.

Overall expenses are now calculated to be approximately $600,000 more than first set out when the board approved that original 2021-202 school year budget last June.

And total revenues are now estimated to be $79,000 greater than first anticipated, money which did help to close the deficit gap.

“Given the project significant increase in expenses, the district underwent a process to reduce budgeted expenses for the remaining six months in order to maintain a balanced budget,” said Margerm.

Based on the amended budget bylaw approved by the board, the district was able to cut $75,000 from its anticipated utilities cost and approximately $25,000 in projected professional development and travel costs.

Looking forward to the next school year beginning this September, Margerm said the district is not predicting a significant increase or decrease in enrolment.

“The three communities — Smithers, Telkwa and Houston will remain approximately equal,” he said.

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