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Teachers Association closely watching school board budget

Preliminary numbers have teaching jobs decreasing by six per cent, says president

When the Sea to Sky School Board considered approving the annual budget Wednesday, the Teachers' Association was closely watching.

Leading up to the all day meeting at Whistler Secondary School, the association's president Beth Miller strongly voiced her concerned about the lack of jobs cuts in the board office at a time when teachers are seeing cuts in the classroom.

"Our board definitely has the best of intentions," said Miller on Tuesday morning. "They always want to do their best to maintain services and not make cuts to the schools, but I think they could be doing more to cut back at the board office."

Despite her requests, the school board is not always clear about how much they are paying for staffing in their office, said Miller. In particular, she pointed to the board's three accountants, two managers of facilities and four people working on payroll.

"I don't want to single out any of these particular jobs," she said. "We are just asking because we are taking some cuts in the classroom, so where are the cuts in the board office?

"We haven't heard that yet. I'm hoping we will hear that tomorrow."

The school board meeting took place from 9 a.m. until past 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 12. Among the items on the agenda, the school board was asked to consider first and second reading for next year's budget.

Although the meeting wrapped up after Pique's deadline, the latest numbers going into the meeting predicted a budget shortfall of $80,000. Those figures are significantly less than the $770,000 deficit the financial committee had on its books last month.

John Hetherington, secretary and treasurer for the School District No. 48, said although the shortfall has been significantly reduced, parents should not notice any huge changes when their children head off to school in September.

"The schools will still service students," said Hetherington. "They may have had to lighten up some of their budget allocations at this point, but schools typically have the ability to move the money around."

School budgets are set through a decentralized system where each school individually allocates the money it is given. A projected budget is set in the spring, based on estimates for the next school year, and the numbers are adjusted in the fall when the final number of students is known.

Miller said enrolment has been going down across the district at a rate of three per cent, but preliminary budget numbers suggest that the number of teachers will be reduced by six per cent. Meanwhile, the number of administration staff is not decreasing, even though their wages tend to be higher than teachers' wages.

"We understand it is a process and even though what they are putting out there right now is their final draft, that doesn't mean it can't undergo changes in the next month," said Miller.

"If we don't see a reduction in administration, we are definitely going to ask some questions and do our best to get that message out there so the public and parents can ask the same kind of questions."

Meanwhile Cathy Jewett, chair of the District Parent Advisory Council for the Sea to Sky school district, said her main concerns with funding rest at the provincial level.

Last month, she spoke to the Minister of Education Margaret MacDiarmid, and was disappointed with what she heard.

"She continues to spout the party line that the B.C. government is spending more on education," said Jewett. "But I think that every household is spending more on everything with inflation costs. Our food costs more, our gas costs more... and our staff wages and benefits continue to be the largest cost on the budget."

Jewett also said the new carbon tax is further putting a strain on the system, especially since it has come at a time when a facilities grant was cancelled. This puts many school districts in a position were they can't make improvements to reduce their carbon footprint.

As a result of the funding decisions by the province, Jewett said schools have to balance their budgets by cutting back on things like library time or special education.

"We are not getting the same value for money," she said. "We are getting less value."