A budget for the 2022-23 school year was approved along with plans to continue planning major renovations at Zahnow Primary School during the Waterloo School Board meeting on Monday.
The budget was approved by the Board after a brief statement from Waterloo Headmaster Brian Charron.
The current school year budget projects $26,875,106 in direct income and $29,485,152 in direct expenditure with a deficit of $2,610,046.
Charron explained at the meeting that although the current budget is unbalanced, a plan to reduce the deficit is not necessary. Such a plan would be required if the deficit is greater than or equal to one-third of the fund’s estimated ending balance, which is $7,870,263.
Charron added that the budget at the start of the school year is prepared using a conservative approach, which is something of a “worst-case-scenario budget,” with actual spending usually being better than forecast.
“It often ends up better than our spending plan,” Charron said. “We try to identify everything that we can potentially spend money on and we only count income that we can count on. So sometimes it ends up better than the original budget, but there are years when we’re deficit spending.”
Charron also said the increased spending in recent years was mainly due to increased labor costs, with the school board also trying to attend to projects in the district.
In terms of the budget, the board also approved a temporary $725,000 interfund loan from the district’s Working Cash Fund to the Debt Service Fund to offset a delay in paying property tax bills.
The board has previously moved district funds in this manner in an unofficial capacity, but district auditors have requested that the Interfund loan be approved through a formal process this year.
Property tax notices were issued in mid-April this year, with which the property tax procedure was initiated. Property tax bills were sent out just last week, with the first due date for taxpayers on November 4 and the second payment on December 16.
Much of Monday’s meeting was devoted to discussing plans for Zahnow Elementary School, which consists of two separate projects involving the school’s parking lot and building respectively.
The architects responsible for the designs discussed plans to add about 100 parking spaces to the school, mostly using existing lot space.
They also intend to add designated bus and car lanes to ease drop off and solve traffic issues that have been particularly troublesome in Zahnow.
Charron also commented on the traffic situation at Gardner Elementary.
“If you’ve ever been near our schools in the morning or afternoon, Zahnow Elementary School near Rogers and Hamacher (Streets) is particularly congested,” Charron said. “We’re confident that if we can complete this parking lot and traffic flow portion of the project in summer ’23, we can alleviate some of the traffic congestion on the city’s streets next year.”
Space in Zahnow was also a major issue, as the district needed to move the school’s preschool and early childhood classrooms to Gardner.
Designs at the meeting featured additions to the front and rear of the school, as well as additional space for an administrator and teacher’s suite, with the architects also planning an improved entrance to make the building more secure.
“Our goal is to bring these students back to Zahnow Primary School upon completion of this project, while also adding additional classroom space – in anticipation of additional incremental growth – and improving the building for greater security,” said Charron.
Further advances in planning and design have been approved with future tenders.
A concerned parent spoke at the meeting to express concern about a survey some teachers had distributed asking about students’ preferred pronouns in relation to gender.
Nathan Mifflin, who has three boys in the district, said he felt the survey was inappropriate for some of the students to whom it was given.
Mifflin referred to information he had heard that some of the younger students who took the survey – Mifflin said some students were surveyed from sixth grade onwards – needed to have the question explained to them by their teacher.
He added that while the question was probably intended to be inclusive and not offensive, he would recommend asking students a different, more open-ended question.
“Instead, they could just ask a question like, ‘Is there anything else you want me to know about you?'” Mifflin said. “This opens the door for students to discuss everything from preferred pronouns to possible bullying at school, even situations in personal life or things as simple as hobbies and interests.”
Mifflin also said he’s learned the district doesn’t have a specific policy on the issue. Charron said the board will consider the matter going forward.
The board also approved the purchase of a John Deere skid steer loader and a Gator for $70,661.84 and $25,819.82, respectively.
Charron said the skid steer will replace a 40-year-old Bobcat that the board discussed at a previous meeting, while the Gator will replace a previously retired four-wheeler as a more versatile vehicle for the district.
Reports from district administrators and site managers were generally positive, and many discussed ongoing projects and student support programs.