Maple Ridge trustees find a surplus

Technology, buses part of the cost savings.

School District 42 is considering eliminating bus service for most of its students

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board has turned red ink into black, even producing a small surplus, while complying with provincial dictates to cut its administration costs.

Now, if only trustees can talk the parents into going along with cutting school buses, slightly increasing class sizes for kindergarten  next year and requiring elementary kids to use their own laptops or tablets in the next few years.

With several nips and tucks, the school board has turned a $1.68-million deficit, which includes $720,000 in provincially ordered administrative cuts, into a small surplus of $272,082.

School board chair Mike Murray said he didn’t consider cutting school busing, requiring parents to buy their kids computer tablets or increasing class sizes as indicating that there was fat to be cut.

“These are things we are having to do to make ends meet. They are going to have an impact on families and that is of concern.”

The district found almost $900,000 in savings as a result of its line-by-line trimming.

• The largest amount is just under $400,000, which will come from the trimming its supplies budget. Instead of automatically increasing for inflation, services and supplies will be kept at the previous year’s levels.

That could be helped when the province creates a central purchasing agency that could cut costs for school districts through volume buying, although it’s not certain if that will make a difference, added Murray.

The school district already follows such buying strategies, he added.

• Another $200,000 was saved though lower utility costs, thanks to upgrades in building technology as a result of its Energy Management Plan.

• Requiring elementary students to bring their own device, tablet or laptop, instead of the school district providing it, will save $150,000, starting this year, when the district cuts its hardware computer leases. Kids this year, however, will still have the tablets, but by 2018 they’ll have to buy their own. The devices are used in the school district’s reading fluency and inquiry projects. Younger students, however, do not bring the devices home and instead just use them in the classroom.

• Trimming the contract with First Student Canada, which runs the school buses, as well as cutting the afternoon bus activity at Garibaldi secondary will generate a total of $70,000 in savings. In the 2016-17 year, however, the board is proposing to end all school bus service. The provincial government suggested that’s one area that could be cut to reduce costs.

As of February, there were 370 students using school buses, working out to a cost to the board of $1,900 per student a year. Eliminating the service next year will save the school district $700,000.

Changes in staffing, administration and student support accounted for other savings. Overall, by adding in a million dollars from reserves, the district generated $1.95 million in savings, producing the $272,082 surplus.

Next year, slight increases in kindergarten and primary class size will generate more savings as the district implements the second year of cuts ordered by the government.

Trustee Ken Clarkson criticized the provincial government for exacting another round of spending reductions despite protests from parents and businesses. The reduction follows previous trimming of $8 million of school district spending that required cutting 70 staff positions.

“This government isn’t listening because it has an agenda that is about undermining public education and replacing it with a private education model.”

Education becomes a commodity that people buy for their own personal gain and “the idea that public education serves the community and society … and all of us in a democracy, is gone.”

The government will only stop if people demand it, he added.

The draft budget was released at the board’s Wednesday meeting. That will be followed next Wednesday, April 15 by a public and partner input meeting at Maple Ridge secondary at 6 p.m. Advance registration is required at budget@sd42.ca.

Another meeting (registration required at budget@sd42.ca) about school busing follows April 22 at Garibaldi secondary with the board adopting the final budget April 29.

Trustee Susan Carr said reducing funding reminded her of how precarious education funding is with grants being cut at any time, resulting in downloading of costs on to parents for busing or having to provide their own computers.

“That is no way to run any kind of business.

“It’s setting us up to fail.”

Murray, formerly recreation general manager with the City of Maple Ridge, said the city has more control over its finances than the school board.

“We budgeted for five years. We knew what was coming. We were able to approach the future with some certainty. This is not the case with what happens in this sector.”

 

Next year:

• The steps proposed to make budget for 2016-17 include raising the teacher-pupil ratio for kindergarten from 1:20 to 1:20.25.

For grades 1 to 3, it will go from 1:22 to 1:22.4. These measures will save another $320,000 from next year’s budget.

The School Act says teacher-pupil ratios can’t exceed one teacher for every 22 students in kindergarten and one teacher for every 24 students in grades 1 to 3. But in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows the average kindergarten class has 19.3 kids, while in grades 1 to 3 it’s 21.5.

 

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