Cuts to clerical staff affect ‘student safety’

Class sizes growing larger bit by bit, says board chair

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board has heard from parents and employees in the first round of consultations over budget cuts.

About 40 people showed up at the Maple Ridge secondary cafeteria last Wednesday to air their concerns as the board trims its budget by $720,000 in administration costs following February’s provincial budget.

Two people talked about plans to slightly raise class sizes in primary grades next year.

The increase is marginal, from 1:20 teachers per pupil to 1:20:25 in kindergarten, from 1:22 to 1:22.4 in grades 1 to 3, for the 2016-17 school year.

But, “It’s an increase – on top of an increase – on top of an increase,” said board chair Mike Murray.

“Every time, we’re getting closer to provincial maximums.”

Murray pointed out last year there were more than 60 classrooms in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows high schools where there 31 students.

The increase drew a comment from Amanda MacCaskell, who said raising class sizes hurts learning.

“There needs to be another way to trim the bottom line,” she added.

“We pay for it now or we pay for it later, when children who are struggling, average or need enrichment, slip between the cracks … “

By provincial law, class size for kindergarten cannot exceed 22 students and grades 1-3 cannot exceed 24 students. For grades 4 to 12, the limit is 30.

Murray noted that a public meeting dealing with one of the most contentious parts of the budget, cutting all school bus service in 2016-17, takes place next week.

Meanwhile, Marianne Ulriksen, head secretary of Yennadon elementary, criticized cuts to clerical staff.

Yennadon had its clerical staff cut by a quarter last year, with the current policy allocating one full-time secretary each day, with a clerk shared on alternate days.

That means half the time there’s only one person in the school office, which “impacts student safety.” That means taking attendance can take more than an hour than usual.

She also said that many calls to schools go to voice mails, while emergency contact information isn’t up to date.

Instead, large elementary schools (600 students) need to be staffed by two staff members in the morning to help take attendance, help staff and parents, answer phones and help students. She wanted large elementary schools to have their clerical time boosted from 17.5 hours a week to 20.

“There is too much going on in a large school office to expect one person to handle it alone. It’s not reasonable,” said Ulriksen.

Another part of the board balancing its budget entails the board ending the program where it provides laptops or tablets to elementary students by 2018.

That will save the school district $150,000 this year as the program winds down.

“That topic did come up,” said Murray.

However, the school district will ensure that loaners are available to any families that can’t afford them.

“We believe that a lot of families have already provided that.”

And by the time the program’s fully implemented, the devices will be even cheaper, Murray pointed out.

The board also passed a resolution it sent to the annual meeting of the B.C. School Trustees Association this weekend in Vancouver, asking that trustees request the B.C. government to withdraw parts of Bill 11 that “override the authority of democratically elected boards of education.”

The resolution says Bill 11 gives the education minister more power to issue orders.

Instead, the government should set its education budget in consultation with school trustees.

 

* Budget meeting

The next public meeting, on cuts to school bus service, takes place this evening, Wednesday, April 22 at Garibaldi secondary from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Advance registration was required in order to make a presentation.

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