The Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District won the Association of School Business Officials International Meritorious Budget Award for the fourth year in a row. (THE NEWS-files)

The Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District won the Association of School Business Officials International Meritorious Budget Award for the fourth year in a row. (THE NEWS-files)

Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District wins budget award

Parent volunteers feel the award comes off the backs of those who fill in the funding gaps

Megan Mercier felt like it was a slap in the face when she saw a recent post by the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District about an award received from the Association of School Business Officials International.

For the fourth year in a row, the school district won the Meritorious Budget Award for their “sound fiscal management and budgetary policies” in addition to “excellence in budget presentation.”

According to the association, the award is a gold star-level designation for a school district’s budget process and the criteria for the award are built on best practices that set apart an exemplary budget process from a traditional budget process.

“In receiving the award, the school district was recognized both for its exemplary budget process, and for its clear and transparent presentation of how funds were generated and allocated,” said Irena Pochop with the school district.

“The robust nature of the process in which we engaged ensures that taxpayer dollars are spent prudently and that our financial decisions align with our strategic directions, school growth plans and divisional operational plans,” Pochop added.

A successful application to the Meritorious Budget Award program, she said, must satisfy a stringent and comprehensive list of criteria, as documented in the ASBO International checklist document.

Mercier along with others who commented on the school district’s online post, feel that this award was given to the district on the backs of teachers, students, and parents, since they have been the ones bridging the gaps of continued budget cuts to schools.

And, she said, to add insult to injury, when people started commenting on the post, the post was removed.

“We all know that underfunding of schools is systemic, but when one District announces that they have won awards for making cuts that typically affect the most vulnerable, it’s a huge slap in the face to parents like me that spend countless hours volunteering and fundraising so our students have the best chance at future success,” she said.

Mercier is head of the Parent Advisory Committee, PAC, at Pitt Meadows Elementary that is attended by 526 students.

Examples of items that her PAC has had to fund include: health and safety supplies for an emergency bin that every school is required to have; some technology updates; playgrounds; supplies for classrooms and teachers; and school upgrades like painting the school or library improvements.

Plus, she said, the school district is very slow to respond to any health and safety concerns.

“We have been waiting for direction on how to keep wheelchairs and strollers safe since September,” she said.

Lisa Cooke, another parent volunteer, has three children who attend Pitt Meadows elementary, including one son who relies on a wheelchair. She estimated that both herself and Mercier put in at least six hours a week, doing extra work for the school. Cooke said she monitors the parking lot in the morning to make sure children are safe.

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She also helps out when educational assistants can’t make it.

“Making a budget work within any district, they have to come in at a certain amount, we get that,” she said. “But, you have left some huge gaps, and our kids need a lot more.”

Jennifer McMillan helps with the school’s fruit and vegetable program and is on the library committee. One of her three children requires speech therapy but when they tried to get the therapy through the school she was told there was a two-year wait. She said they were able to pay for it out of their own pocket.

“What if you’re a family who can’t,” she asked through tears. “Is a child supposed to suffer and not be able to speak for three or four years? It doesn’t seem right,” she said.

Mercier added that access to extra supports in schools is sorely lacking and kids are falling through the cracks because the supports aren’t available for them. She noted the district recently cut funding to underprivileged families for an after-school program at her school. Now the program director is paying the students’ fees.

“So she doesn’t have to tell the families and children they can no longer attend,” explained Mercier.

Pochop said the district did take down a post on Facebook on Friday evening, Mar. 4, as they saw that those who were responding to the story were not understanding the nature of the award.

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“The complaints we saw being posted addressed the general levels of funding, which were thought to be inadequate. However, funding levels are determined by provincial government – not by school districts,” she explained, noting that their budget document simply provides a transparent account of how the “limited resources” available to them are being spent.

As an example, Pochop said, the school district has identified improved levels of student engagement and graduation as a key strategic goal, and has ensured that this strategic goal is well supported with financial resources, including dedicated staffing, collaborative planning time, and learning resources.

“The continued year-over-year increase we have been seeing in our six year grad rates is the direct result of this intentional effort. Our results are consistently well above the provincial average and show not only that our students are graduating at higher rates in all categories, but that they are also doing it with distinction,” she explained.

Pochop added that community consultation is part of every budge cycle and families are invited to provide feedback on the priorities undertaken by the school district.

Key dates for the budget process for the 2022/23 school year can be found at sd42.ca/2022-budget-process.


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