While the provincial government trumpets a balanced B.C. budget, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board is paying a painful price for doing its part keeping the government in the black.
Tuesday’s budget included cuts of $29 million in administration costs for school boards in B.C. for 2015 to 2016.
In Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, that works out to a funding cut of $700,000. That’s on top of previously planned expense reductions this year of $1.5 million.
“We had not anticipated that,” said board chairperson Mike Murray.
“That means we’ll have to find service cuts of $2.2 million for the 2015-2016 year.”
The government did pay for the increases in B.C. teachers’ salaries as a result of the new wage deal worked out last year. Province-wide, that’s another $106 million for education.
But there’s no money to pay for higher medical service plan premiums for staff, B.C. Hydro increases, inflation or for increases for principals or vice principals, whose salaries have remained frozen since 2009. That wage freeze remains in place.
Over the last three years, because of stagnant government funding, the school board has cut more than $10 million from its budget, over and above that required because of reduced enrolment.
In the last two years, 70 positions, including teachers, principals, clerical staff, career counsellors and special education assistants, have been cut.
“We are absolutely disheartened with the government’s response in this budget,” Murray said.
He added, it feels like the government is ignoring the school districts, which are trying to deliver education.
The school board is trying to figure out how savings will be found.
“But I can tell you right now, everything we do has an impact on students,” he said. “Year after year of having to cut is terribly demoralizing.”
Reducing clerical staff means principals and vice-principals have to spend more time on administration chores rather than education, Murray said.
“I don’t honestly understand it. It feels like government is really disconnected from the front lines,” in terms of what it takes to deliver education.
There’s no mention of any money for a new elementary school for Albion in Maple Ridge, among the list of new school projects announced in the budget.
The school district is still doing a facilities review to see where new buildings are needed. That review is to be done by June.
Murray pointed out that opening a new school costs up to half a million dollars a year to operate, which would mean cutting from somewhere else.
Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton, currently sitting as an independent while he pursues the federal Conservative nomination, said it’s not easy to pass a budget that pleases everyone.
“I think British Columbians should be proud of how their tax dollars are being managed,” he said.
“Will it meet all the needs? We’re doing everything we can in a fiscally responsible way.”
Dalton cited the B.C. Early Childhood Tax Benefit that gives families with children under six, $660 a year.
As well, they’re is also a $1,200 Training and Education Savings grant for all children in B.C. born after 2007.
There’s also a 33-per-cent increase to the Learning Improvement Fund.
Dalton said he was encouraged by the budget and will support it in a legislative vote.
“We’re seeing some positive things and we’re keeping in the black. I think the public service has a lot to do with this too.”
George Sera, head of the Maple Ridge Teachers Association said the province requiring each school district to cover the extra costs of MSP premiums will have a “huge impact” on the school district.
Last year, school boards had to cut costs.
“Now, they’re just going to have to do it once again.”