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Trying to run a school board has got to be one of the most frustrating jobs in British Columbia. Perhaps only matched by being a student or parent of a student.

Trying to run a school board has got to be one of the most frustrating jobs in British Columbia. Perhaps only matched by being a student or parent of a student. While the provincial government has portrayed itself as the saviour of education and health care, the reality is that funding for education hasn’t nearly kept pace with the student population boom and the education system’s needs. As a result, students are left to attend classes in schools like Signal Hill in Pemberton, where the air quality could be damaging their health. The Coast Garibaldi Community Health Service Society has confirmed that four elementary schools in the Howe Sound district — Signal Hill, Mamquam, Stawamus and Squamish — have poor indoor air quality. Signal Hill has been found to have high levels of airborne moulds that may be toxigenic. The 35-year-old school also sits directly under Hydro lines and on a flood plain. One of the temporary solutions to the air quality issue at Signal Hill will be to move the Grade 7 students to Pemberton Secondary, thereby reducing the number of students at Signal Hill, which is currently more than 100 students over capacity. But that creates new problems at Pemberton Secondary because it will put the high school beyond its capacity. Replacement of Signal Hill has been at the top or second from the top of the Howe Sound district’s capital wish list for the past four years. But school boards have no more ability to make their wish lists come true than do little children. It’s the province that decides how much money each district will receive and what they will do with the money. The Howe Sound district’s first and second capital priorities this year were for an addition to Brackendale Junior Secondary and replacement of Signal Hill. The Ministry of Education provided funds for an addition to Garibaldi Highlands elementary and to replace roof membranes on various district schools. This system, where the province decides budgets for districts, doesn’t even allow for long-term capital planning. Intrawest has said it will donate a site for a second elementary school in Whistler (number three on the district’s wish list this year) which should free up capital for other projects. But not in the Ministry of Education world; no district knows when it can build until the ministry provides funds for planning a school — then it will take another two-three years before the school is completed. The province also determines teachers’ salaries. Wages and benefits consume approximately 90 per cent of the operating budget the ministry provides the Howe Sound district, one of the fastest growing districts in British Columbia. To meet that budget this district has, in the past couple of years, cut crossing guards, left teaching positions unfilled, cut special education and aboriginal education programs and school supplies have, in many cases, been at a bear minimum. On top of this there was the exercise in futility imposed by former Education Minister Art Charbonneau, who decreed in November 1995 that the number of school districts in the province would be cut in half. After five months of work and the stress to meet a deadline, most of the districts — including Howe Sound — were told they could remain as they were. All of which is water under the bridge. The bottom line is that children in this district are going to school in overcrowded and potentially hazardous buildings. The province has to do more.