Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows trustees approve $2 million in cuts

Elementary band program back to high schools, class sizes to increase

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows trustees approve $2 million in cuts

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board passed a balanced 2011/12 budget Tuesday as trustees voted to approve more than $2 million in cuts.

Among the programs cut will be the district’s elementary school band program, while the district’s special education program will be trimmed by $180,000.

That doesn’t sit well with Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra.

In a letter to the board, Serra decried the cuts, stating that special education support teachers are already stretched too thin.

“We find the rationale to justify the cuts to the special education portion of the budget, quite frankly, disturbing,” he stated. “We believe that the services provided to students by these teachers, notably those students who have distinct learning challenges, are worth their weight in gold.”

School district director Laurie Meston defended the cuts at Tuesday’s board meeting, noting that School District No. 42’s ratio of support workers to students was still far below that of neighbouring districts.

“I have a lot of respect for Laurie, but I disagree that these cuts are manageable,” Serra said after the meeting. “Obviously, we’re disappointed, but we understand the challenge [trustees] are faced with.”

The district will also eliminate the elementary school band teacher position. For the past two years, the teacher regularly visited close to 20 elementary schools in the district to deliver the elementary band program to Grade 6 and 7 students. District high schools will now go back to hosting the program the way they did prior to the hiring of the elementary band teacher two years ago.

The district will also see increased class sizes at the secondary and intermediate levels, a two per cent reduction in services and supplies, a reduction in clerical hours, and the canceling of the district’s IT contract.

Board chair Ken Clarkson said trustees will have to make even more cuts next year, unless the provincial government begins to adequately fund public education.

“There isn’t any fat left to trim, I believe,” said Clarkson.

School boards are required by law to submit balanced budgets. Should trustees approve a deficit budget, the province has the power to fire them and assume control of the board.

The North Vancouver school board was fired in 1996 by the NDP government in power at the time, after the board presented the province with a deficit budget. In 1985, the Social Credit government of the day fired the Vancouver school board trustees over similar budget issues.

Next year’s $127.7 million budget is down more than $500,000 from the 2010/11 school year. The district is expecting a $750,000 drop in revenue due largely to a reduction in provincial funding, as well as an $1.5 million increase in costs from pensions, MSP premiums, and holiday pay.