School districts grapple with cost pressures 

Province to redirect $25M back to districts

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Crisis management Sea to Sky Teachers Association president Steve Lloyd.
  • photo submitted
  • Crisis management Sea to Sky Teachers Association president Steve Lloyd.

School districts across the province were relieved by an announcement from provincial education minister Mike Bernier on May 31, stating $25 million in administration savings would be redirected to services for students, but concerns around underfunding remain.

"Districts worked hard to reduce their administrative costs and we are pleased to be able to direct that $25 million back to programs and initiatives that will directly benefit the kids of B.C.," Bernier said in a release.

Bernier's announcement comes one day after Sea to Sky School District (SD48) board chair Rick Price sent a letter to the minister outlining the district's concerns with 2016-17 funding.

In it, Price highlights more than $1.2 million in additional cost pressures for the district over the past two years that are not being funded by the province, including BC Hydro's nine-per-cent rate increase ($120,000) and the mandatory completion of the Next Generation Network upgrade ($330,000).

"We regard ourselves as a positive school district, and one which prides itself on a can-do attitude," Price wrote.

"We would, however, be neglecting a duty to you, our students and our staff if we did not convey our serious concerns about a mounting set of financial challenges that are the result of decisions made in Victoria."

The announcement of the additional funds is definitely good news, said Shehzad Somji, secretary treasurer for SD48.

In its draft budget presented last month, SD48 projected a potential shortfall of $633,000, based on a "worst-case scenario" outcome, informed largely by the additional cost pressures.

"This is definitely good news for SD48 and will help offset our shortfall we presented in the draft budget to the board in May, as we will realize an additional $224,674 in funding to be used," Somji said in an email.

The budget will soon be balanced and finalized, and presented to the SD48 board at a public meeting on June 8, Somji said.

Steve Lloyd, president of the Sea to Sky Teachers Association, in a letter to the editor in the May 19 edition of Pique outlined some concerns teachers have with public school funding.

In a follow-up phone call, Lloyd chalked the lack of funding up to a case of misplaced priorities.

"Governments have lots of money. They just choose to spend it on some things and not others," Lloyd said. "So we're not asking for people to be taxed more to pay for public education, we're asking for the government to shift its priorities slightly."

Cuts to public school funding have meant fewer resources for students — most notably for those with special needs — while provincial funding has increased for private schools, Lloyd said.

"Basically, we're darkening the doors," he said, noting that public education has decreased from 25 per cent to about 12 per cent of the provincial budget since 2002.

"We need more knowledgeable, engaged citizens, and I think public education is a key part of that," he added.

"It's a key part of making sure that every child gets a decent start in life, and so I really do hope that people start to take it as being a system in crisis.

"We are, as a community and as a population, as citizens, going to have to decide whether we keep public education or not."


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