School Distict 20 – Illness absentees create unhealthy projected deficit

A rash of extra sick days by School District 20 staff could infect the district’s already feverish $1.4 million budget deficit

  • Feb. 24, 2012 5:00 a.m.

A rash of extra sick days being coughed up by school district staff could infect the district’s already feverish $1.4 million budget deficit, according to projections from SD20 administration.

With the teachers contract labour dispute still unresolved, School District 20 (Kootenay-Columbia) is feeling some pressure with the replacement budget that covers teachers on call (TOC) and other staffing substitutes.

SD20 secretary treasurer Natalie Verigin told the board of trustees recently only 31 per cent ($317,024) of the district’s $1.02 million total budget remains for substitute expenditures, money the district has to pay to cover the cost of hiring substitute teachers for absentees.

She said the budget should have approximately 50 per cent of its budget left at the mid point.

“If this trend continues, and we have five more months of school to go . . . we could be looking at a $350,000 shortfall,” she said.

The statement caused concern with the board trustees, who already face the prospect of tightening the district belt to absorb a $1.4 million budgetary shortfall discovered last month.

“Is that over and above the $1.4 million (shortfall) we are expecting for next year?” asked trustee Jo-Ann Bursey of Castlegar.

Verigin said she had built in a $200,000 “lift” for replacement labour costs into the replacement budget earlier this year when the shortfall was first detected.  However, there would be an extra $150,000 overrun — pushing the deficit to $1.55 million — if the sick day inclination continued.

Claims for family illness leave has cost the district $42,126, as has bereavement leave by $21,524, and substitutes for charters at $4,730 — all with no initial budget amount. TOC illness has used up 61 per cent of its $665,313 budget ($408,432), while subs for aides used up 74 per cent of its $94,679 budget ($69,911).

Trustee Jenn Carter wondered if a trend had been done to see if there was heavier use in the winter months than during the spring.

“It might make us fell a little better if we could see how past trends were … and that things would lighten up by spring and everyone is feeling better,” she said.

Superintendent of schools, Greg Luterbach, said that wasn’t the case. However, he said a conversation has started about next year’s budget and the pressures the district’s schools are feeling on substitute budgets.

He also said the district was looking into mounting an awareness campaign with staff on the realities of what sick days cost. Sick leave comes directly out the district budget, Luterbach said, and there is no magical fund from Victoria.

“People get a pay stub that says how many sick days they get. Is that good or bad that they know?” he said. “We talked about it not as a punitive, in your face thing, but we need to make our staff aware of (that) cost.”

Board chair Darrel Ganzert wondered if there was something the district could do to support those people who were chronic users of the sick days and reduce the number of days they were absent.

“There are names that go behind each one of these stories, and we need to treat our employees with respect and we have to look at each situation for a solution,” said Luterbach.

The school district is now looking at any trends developing in SD20 through historical data, he added, as well as looking at the industry as a whole, how SD20 is doing compared to the rest of Canada, and what statistics are there and if this is a common issue or is it localized.

“That helps determine what kind of path we can take to find the budget to do it, or realize savings,” Luterbach said.

Ganzert felt the previous board — in order to balance the budget — made an underestimation of the amount of money needed for substitutes and TOCs, creating a false economy but balancing the budget.

“That was a conscious decision and now maybe we are reaping that reward,” he said.

Luterbach couldn’t say for sure.

“Whether of not our budget was off, you can see what the yearly expenditures are and they are huge,” said trustee Gordon Smith.

Overall, the year-to-date expenditures for the entire SD20 operation are around 48 per cent of the total budget at the halfway mark of the school year — at $19,611,005 spent out of a total of $37,612,947. That is on the mark, said Verigin.