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Ridge school trustees make appeal in face of more cuts

Valerie Rankin teacher a Grade 2/3 class at Eric Langton elementary.  - The News/Files
Valerie Rankin teacher a Grade 2/3 class at Eric Langton elementary.
— image credit: The News/Files

Parents need to call local MLAs and complain that the education system is not receiving adequate funding from Victoria, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School Board is urging.

The board announced on Tuesday that it will once again be facing a budget shortfall of more than $5 million for 2014-2015. That follows a budget year when the trustees cut $5.6 million.

There is no fat left to trim, trustees say.

Last year, the board wrote the education minister to plead its case, and each week the school board agenda includes copies of letters from other districts to Minister Peter Fassbender, asking for more funding. Still, the boards are not getting the money they say is needed.

“A large number of them are saying the same thing, and we’re having to take steps we don’t want to take,” said board chair Mike Murray.

He declined to say what cuts the trustees will be considering, noting the budget process will become public later this month.

Last year, the board presented parents with a survey, asking them to prioritize areas of importance and gauge support for cut and revenue opportunities, after which gym rental fees were hiked.

Murray said the cuts required for the coming year are larger than can be addressed by frugal management practices alone.

At the last meeting of March, trustee Susan Carr proposed a motion that the board make its frustrations more public.

“I don’t think the general public gets how serious the situation is,” explained Carr.

“We try to keep it [cuts] as far away from the classroom as possible.”

She added that the board has only been able to balance budgets by depleting reserves, but can no longer continue doing so.

“We need help. We need more voices. Maybe if the people who go to the voting booths started making noise, government would listen.”

Murray hopes parent voices will be heard by government.

“Both the B.C. School Trustees Association and the bipartisan select standing committee on government finances have acknowledged the problem and called on  government to respond with increased education funding,” he said.

“By issuing this release, we hope those with the greatest stake in the system, our students’ parents, will help us make the case that public education is important and needs more support.”

Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra understands the board’s frustration.

“We’ve asked this board to take a more public stand on the issues around under-funding. This is a good step,” he said. “The letter writing campaigns have falling on deaf ears.”

Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton said the local school board has company in its tough budget process.

“The school district grapples with the same challenge the provincial government is facing – living within our means,” said Dalton. “It’s not easy.”

He will tell parents who call that the province has increased funding for K-12 education in the province every year, and introduced a new learning improvement fund of $75 million.

However, he said districts like Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, with declining enrollment, will face a reduction in their per-pupil operating budget.

“We’ve got a good board. I know they faced this challenge, and were able to do it last year,” he said. “There’s no doubt it’s tough, and I commend them for the job they’re doing.”

• Public and partner group input on the school district’s budget is currently being sought and can be provided by emailing comments to budget@sd42.ca

The board will consider a proposed budget on April 9, and welcomes public input, by email at budget@sd42.ca, and in person at the meeting scheduled for April 16, at 6 p.m. in the Maple Ridge secondary cafeteria.

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