SD42 trustees call for more funding
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District sees a widespread crisis in education, and will try to rally school boards across B.C. to protest the provincial government’s demands for budget cuts.
“It is a very challenging budget year for us,” chairman Mike Murray said at the Wednesday night board meeting, referring to a shortfall estimated at $6 million out of a $129 million budget for the 2013-2014 school year.
He noted the province has told boards to find the funds for increased employee remuneration within existing budgets, warning that the province will not increase its grants for operational funding.
Other cost pressures are added by declining student enrollment, the switch from the HST back to the PST/GST tax regime.
“That is a budget going backward – that is a budget that impacts services,” said Murray.
He noted that boards across the province, the local school district among the first, have voiced concerns to Victoria. However, the provincial budget has been passed by the legislature, without increases for education.
“Nothing has changed, despite our protestations, and that is a concern,” said Murray.
He added that the board has been “looking under every rock” for potential cuts that won’t affect students.
Ken Clarkson, the board’s representative on the B.C. School Trustees Association (BCSTA) and a former board chairman, was at a meeting of Fraser Valley districts, and said six of the seven are in a similar position to Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, facing shortfalls ranging from $3 million to $10 million.
Metro districts find themselves with the same dilemma.
The BCSTA has pegged the shortfall at $134 million across the province.
Clarkson acknowledges that several budgets ago, governments saw room for cuts in school board budgets, and forced districts to take up the slack.
“They’ve got themselves into this pattern, where now every year they come back and want more and more, and there isn’t any more,” he said.
“We’ve been to lots of sessions that have demonstrated we have one of the best education systems in the world. That’s being threatened.”
That’s the message he wants to send Victoria, with what he terms “a call to action from other boards.”
The trustees passed Clarkson’s motion to write partners in education, asking that they express concern about the lack of provincial funding.
“It’s powerful when you’ve got all the partners [in education] saying the same thing,” he said. “Last election, education was not an issue. This year – good on the BCSTA – they’re determined to make it an issue.”
Asked whether the board is playing politics with school budgets, as the Liberal government faces a tough May general election, Clarkson responded that trustees’ political persuasions run across the spectrum, but are united in seeing a potential crisis.
“Why is a government going into an election doing this to boards – doing this to kids?” he asked.
The board has been asking for public feedback on where to cut through an online survey that has received more than 1,000 responses. The survey is now closed, and the results will be released after spring break (March 18-28).
The province is due to announce its operational funding today (March 15), but trustees have been warned to expect the worst.