By Justin Prince
Note: This story was originally published on OurWindsor.ca.
The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board is expecting to have a deficit of more than $5 million for next year’s budget.
The WECDSB, which approved its final draft budget during its board meeting June 14, is expecting to have an in-year deficit of about $5.3 million for the 2016-17 school year. This was after the province’s Divisional Court ruled in April that all school boards will need to pay post-retirement benefits to its former employees who are 65 years old or above. It had been expecting about a $1.6 million loss while developing the budget prior to the ruling.
The board plans to pay for the deficit by using some of its $18.7 million in reserve funds.
“The roadmap to getting back to balanced is to continue working with the ministry because this is an issue where it came at us really quickly,” said Barbara Holland, chairperson for the WECDSB Board of Trustees. “We had not had the opportunity to look at the budget and say, ‘How can we adjust?’ There just hasn’t been time. At this point, dipping into the reserves is our only option.”
In 2013, the Ontario Ministry of Education had previously advised the WECDSB that they were not allowed to pay for benefits for some of its former employees under the Education Act if they were more than 65 years old. It had previously given lifetime benefits and life insurance to its retirees for more than 50 years. Unifor, the bargaining agent for its staff members, then started paying grievances for the lost benefits the following summer.
With the court ruling, the board will need to add an additional $3.7 million in post-retirement benefit liabilities to its expenses this year. It is also now liable for a province-high $41.4 million in benefit obligations.
Some of the board’s other proposed expenses include a $2.7 million increase in instruction and school staff costs and an additional $1.2 million for student accommodations.
Holland noted the board plans to look into ways to cut costs in the near future due to its benefit costs, including finding ways to downsize and streamline parts of its structure. She said one thing the WECDSB will not consider doing is reducing is its student programming.
“We have hit a formula here where we take the dollars we have and make them work and we make them work by investing in student programming,” said Holland. “We’re seeing through our enrollment numbers that that’s what parents want for their children, so we’ll continue to make that our main priority. We’ll deal with this as we’ve dealt with things in the past.”
The school board applied for ministry approval to enter the 2016-17 school year with its current projected deficit May 30, according to Superintendent of Business Penny King. She noted she is “cautiously optimistic” that it will be approved in time for final approval June 27 due to the circumstances.
“We were $500,000 away from balancing,” said Ward 3 Trustee Lisa Soulliere during the meeting. “After going through the year that we’ve had and looking to look at school consolidation and having to make those difficult decisions and others along the way, it would have been nice to have been in that position.”
The draft budget will be holding a consultation period June 14-27.