Board decries request for cuts

Morale low, busing may be eliminated as huge budget cuts loom for local school board.

Budget cuts in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district have staff morale at a low ebb, the district may be forced to cut school bus service entirely, and trustees want to meet with the education minister to lobby for more funding.

A new letter from school board chair Mike Murray to Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the latest provincial budget has made a request for a meeting, made last June, even more urgent.

That budget calls for the district to find $1.3 million in administrative savings over the next two years.

Murray tells the minister that the board has already reduced administrative costs by eight per cent in the past two years. The board will also have to find budget cuts to cover unfunded increases in MSP premiums, Hydro rate increases and other inflationary costs.

Over the past two budget years, the board has made $8 million in service cuts, and early estimates peg the coming budget as requiring another $2.5 million to be axed.

“One gets the impression government believes we haven’t been doing any cutting before now, and we must be forced to,” said Murray, discussing the letter.

On Thursday, Fassbender said the public education system is well funded, with an increase of $576 million over the next three years, and that total education funding will top $5 billion next year.

But he said school districts are spending more money on administration than ever before, rising to almost seven per cent of the budgets if no cuts are made.

“All we’re asking the school districts to do is to find administrative savings to reflect the percent they were spending 10 years ago – about six per cent,” said Fassbender.

The local board assessed the impacts of the cuts it has already made, receiving submissions from all employee groups and the district parent advisory council.

“Unfortunately, we must advise that the morale in the district is lower than any of us can remember, and that this blow to morale is the direct result of ongoing budget cuts,” Murray said in his letter.

“We cannot imagine the effect the next round of adjustments will have, or if any such adjustments are even possible without compromising the safety and educational experience of our students.”

Bus service now costs a student $215 per year, with a discount for larger families. The board will now have to consider cutting the service entirely for 2015-2016, in order to save $1 million.

“These are not things we want to do, but how can we deal with that kind of significant impact, and keep it away from the classroom,” asks Murray.

The letter also outlines how there are 67 secondary classes in the district with more than 30 students, clerical staff hours have been reduced by 23 per cent, and school administrators are forced to “work far more overtime than is reasonable.”

He also said that a continued freeze on the wages of principals, vice-principals and other exempt staff has reached the point where they are being treated with disrespect. These employees,”educational leaders,” have not had a pay increase since 2009.

“Why is the government not listening,” asks Murray in the letter. “We can only conclude that government decision-makers do not understand the challenges involved in the front line delivery of public education.”