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Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows school board approves budget, saves StrongStart

All eight StrongStart programs will be running next school year
All eight StrongStart programs to remain in the district after preliminary budge passes. (The News files)

StrongStart will not be cut after all, following negative feedback over the preliminary school board budget that would have seen the program reduced from eight to seven in the school district.

Following public response to the budget, the SD42 school board approved the budget for the 2024/25 school year, maintaining all eight of the current StrongStart programs.

“We have worked hard to try to balance the needs on the system against the current, ongoing and increasing budgetary constraints,” said board chairperson Elaine Yamamoto. “As a board, we are especially grateful for the high levels of public participation in this year’s budget process, which have helped guide our decision-making.”

StrongStart is a free program for children up to five, which serves as an introduction to the school system and preparation for kindergarten. It has been suffering from long-term under-funding by the province, said Yamamoto.

Funding for the program, from the Ministry of Education and Child Care, has been unchanged since 2012/13. At the same time, explained Yamamoto, the Consumer Price Index has increased by 26 per cent, contributing to higher costs for salaries, benefits, and supplies for running the centres.

In addition to keeping the StrongStart program, the board also increased the added hours for grounds staff from 600 to 800 for the next school year after hearing the need for additional support for the maintenance of school grounds.

READ MORE: StrongStart underfunding has put it on chopping block in the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District

Other key areas of investment included the extension of kindergarten transition support from 8 to 15 weeks, an allocation of funding for psychoeducational assessments for students throughout the district, literacy helping teacher and numeracy support, and funding to support student-led design and creation of school spaces that improve sense of belonging, safety, and inclusivity for all learners.

“We have tried to address as many areas of need as we could but have had to draw on our current year surplus to cover our funding shortfall for next year,” Yamamoto noted. “Unfortunately, this means those surplus funds cannot be used to purchase portable classrooms to accommodate our increasing student population, and it creates a structural deficit that we will need to address in next year’s budget, making continued board advocacy for adequate provincial funding essential.”

She added the district is grappling with numerous funding pressures, including provincial inequities in CommunityLINK and Equity of Opportunity allocations, persistent and increasing shortfalls in funding for early learning programs including StrongStart, insufficient funds for student transportation, inadequate funding for facilities maintenance, growing enrolment and resulting space requirements, and escalating costs driven by inflation.

ALSO: New Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District superintendent says student growth an ‘opportunity’

“All of these pressures put stress on our system and on our budget,” said Yamamoto.

Yamamoto said the board remains committed to navigating the challenges of funding and infrastructure needs while prioritizing the educational outcomes and well-being of our students and added how grateful the board is for the community’s active participation and interest in shaping this budget.

The approved budget, she said, aims to deliver on key priorities in the challenging context of chronic under-funding of public education.

A summary of public feedback received and how this feedback was used in the preparation of the 2024/25 Preliminary Budget is available on the district website at:

Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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