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Maple Ridge school board tells parents to protest

Trustees Eleanor Palis, Sarah Nelson and Susan Carr at the school board meeting Wednesday. - Monisha Martins/The News
Trustees Eleanor Palis, Sarah Nelson and Susan Carr at the school board meeting Wednesday.
— image credit: Monisha Martins/The News

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School Board called for a day of protest Wednesday as it reluctantly passed a budget that eliminates jobs.

Projected cost increases and enrolment changes for 2014-15 left School District 42 with an operating budget shortfall of $5.02 million, forcing the board to cut up to 14 CUPE positions, as well as several with the B.C. teachers’ union – the latter a reduction of 9.43 full-time equivalents.

The board wouldn’t provide exact number of jobs as the finance department calculates it in full-time equivalents.

“It will be up to our HR department now to implement these FTE staffing reductions, and the number of people affected by the cuts will be determined through that process,” said school district manager of communications Irena Pochop.

Parents will also have to pay $215 next year for bus service within their catchment area, but students traveling outside their catchment and those with special needs are exempt.

As secretary treasurer, Flavia Coughlan detailed the cuts and corresponding savings to each department, a member of the audience swore loudly.

In addition to reducing staff, the school district will use $820,000 from its contingency fund to partially offset the projected shortfall.

Trustee Eleanor Palis said to the board room packed with CUPE workers that decisions were  deliberated and imposed from outside powers beyond their control.

“I’m increasingly dismayed in my role,” said Palis, recalling a meeting she attended as the board representative of the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, during which the former education minister told them try whatever you like, “‘We’re going to trump you anyways.’”

Sarah Nelson called it a “Sophie’s Choice” budget, a document which left the board to choose between two unbearable options.

“I came to create, not to cut,” said Nelson, who urged parents to write to their MLAs, a call echoed by trustee Susan Carr.

Carr told the room she was frustrated with the “whole mess of education underfunding.”

“Contrary to the perception that has been created in our local papers recently, the board are not the enemy in the situation,” said Carr.

“The power of boards has been systematically eroded over the past few years to a level where we are nothing but figureheads who have no real authority.”

Carr urged parents and other taxpayers to organize a province-wide day of protest at MLA offices. Wear a colour, start a Facebook page, she said.

“It won’t fly if only one or few do it. Everybody’s got to do it. Let’s pick a day, time and get the word out.”

The board has urged the B.C. School Trustees Association to work with the province on a review of the current funding formula.

“Parents and other citizens need to send a message to government that balanced provincial budgets can be achieved through reasonable, inflation-based annual tax increases,” said board chair Mike Murray, who did a bit of research to prepare his statement.

Murray looked at his municipal property taxes for the past decade and discovered the municipal portion had increase by almost 50 per cent in that period, while the portion of his taxes that went to the province for school purposes declined by 16 per cent.

Trustee Ken Clarkson, a former teacher, reminded the room that public education is for the common good and a cornerstone of democracy.

“This government is making a conscientious choice to underfund public education,” said Clarkson.

“Some say the government’s failure to adequately fund public education is because they wish to destroy it. Education is being commodified into a profit centre. Our children’s education is being sacrificed on the altar of money and power. We need you to express your concerns to government, nothing will change until the government hears from you.”

CUPE workers still believe they are bearing the brunt of the cuts and filled the board room Wednesday.

Following the meeting, a group of women who work in administrative and support positions  gathered outside to vent their frustration.

Some of them will see their hours of work reduced from 12 months to 10, while others said they were going to lose their jobs.

“At the end of the day, 14 bodies is 14 bodies,” said Shawna Peake, who works at Garibaldi secondary.

Gladys Hewson, secretary at Blue Mountain elementary, felt she was being forced to retire.

“It just saddens me,” said Hewson. “We used to have a wonderful employer. Now we work with wonderful people, but we don’t have a wonderful employer anymore.”

Maple Ridge - Pitt Meadows School District Budget 2014-2015

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