Maple Ridge teachers’ union wants funding confrontation
Six weeks before an election is the perfect time for the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board to confront the provincial government over education funding, says the local teachers’ association president.
Local trustees are protesting a level of government funding that could see them forced to cut as much as $6 million in costs out of the district’s $129 million operating budget for the 2013-2014 school year.
At their March 13 meeting, trustees decried the low funding levels, and decided to seek the support of other boards – many across the province are experiencing a similar budgetary dilemma – to lobby the government for more money.
But Maple Ridge Teachers Association president George Serra urges more radical action – the board should pass a needs budget, he says.
School boards cannot set local tax rates, and are required by law to pass a balanced budget with the amount of funding provided by the province – based roughly on a per-pupil formula of almost $7,000 each.
The so-called needs budget would be one based on the actual cost to provide all the services to students that the board sees as necessary, despite not balancing the books.
“That would resonate with the public,” said Serra. “And in an election year, the government will care.
“It would be a political statement.”
The last board to pass a needs budget was Cowichan, and in July 2012 the board was fired by then-education minister Jim Abbott. The Cowichan trustees said they had cut $11 million from their budget in three years.
Serra said local trustees face an ugly task cutting $6 million out of one budget.
“It is grim, and they will significantly impact students in this district, with what they’re going to have to do.”
Serra appreciates that the board is lobbying Victoria for more money, saying “it’s good to see them taking a stand.”
The government announced on Thursday that it would increase the ratio of per-pupil funding to $6,900 per student, which is an increase of $116.
According to Ridge Meadows School District treasurer Flavia Coughlan, it won’t make a difference to the coming budget, though.
Ken Clarkson, former board chair and board representative to the B.C. School Trustees Association, said the provincial government simply cannot stop putting increases into the system without expecting the quality of education to drop.
He also said the board must be able to cover higher operating costs – heating, hydro, inflation and more.
The government said in November that it must also account for increases for employee wage increases out of existing budgets, which sparked a letter of complaint from virtually every school district in the province.
“If we only had to deal with declining enrollment, we would be alright,” said Clarkson.
Serra echoed that sentiment: “A year later, it’s more expensive to do business for a variety of reasons, and government doesn’t recognize that at all.”
Coughlan will present the final budget estimates to the local board at its April 10 meeting.
“Our senior team will be recommending to us where we should make cuts,” noted Clarkson.
The results of the board’s online public survey of education spending priorities will be released following spring break, which ends April 2.