The Langley School District will leave the red and be in the black by the end of this school year, having paid off its deficit of more than $13 million.
"That would be two years ahead of the timeline the Ministry of Education had given the school district," secretary-treasurer David Green explained.
Since the district's overspending came to light in 2009, it has been putting any extra funds towards the deficit.
A plan worked out with the Ministry of Education called for the district to pay about $3.375 million per year until 2014 to get the books back in balance. School districts cannot run deficits by law.
At the Sept. 25 board meeting, Green reviewed the district finances.
He said that the district is projecting a surplus this year beyond the extra funds it had to come up with the pay down the deficit.
The trustees debated whether to set aside the money for unexpected emergencies or extra unbudgeted costs. That could be a significant drop in student numbers or emergency construction work at a school, for instance. Such instances could force the district into another deficit situation.
This came as a suggestion from a recent Ministry of Education meeting. The ministry recommended setting aside 1.5 to 2.5 per cent of its budget as a rainy day fund.
The fund amounts to about $3.1 million.
That change prompted a debate about district spending.
"I think this is prudent and shows good leadership," noted trustee Alison McVeigh.
Trustee Megan Dykeman said she was torn. Such a thing is common for the private sector but "we're administering public funds."
She questioned whether the district should put that money into schools instead of holding it back.
"I'm really conflicted at just stockpiling taxpayer dollars for a rainy day," she said.
Superintendent Suzanna Hoffman said having lived through the deficit, it's not something she wants to see for the district should there be an emergency.
"I don't want to go back there," added board chair Wendy Johnson.
"If we were to go to the ministry sometime in the future saying 'sorry, we have a deficit, we would have some 'splainin' to do," McVeigh commented on the plan.
In the end, the trustees voted to set aside the money as a restricted surplus. It cannot be spent without board approval.
"It adds stability to the system," McFarlane said.