Murray returns as school board chair

Susan Carr new vice-chair for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.

Susan Carr.

Susan Carr.

Mike Murray was returned as chair of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board on Wednesday.

Susan Carr will be the board’s new vice-chair, as Eleanor Palis did not stand for re-election after holding the position for six years.

The school board’s seven trustees must select a new board chair and vice-chair each December for the coming year, the trustees themselves voting for their leaders.

Both Murray and Carr were nominated, and ran unopposed for their positions.

“It’s a great role to have – I’m looking forward to it,” said Carr of her new position. “It’s an honour.”

She has been on the board since 2008.

The big issue on the agenda in 2016 for the board is its coming budget, she said.

“We have to see what we’re going to get from the province.”

There should be relief in sight. With the district growing by more than 400 students this year, and provincial funding based on a per-pupil formula, trustees should be able to expect belt tightening to be relaxed. The formula provides more than $8,000 per student, and more for students with special needs.

The board has been dealing with budget cuts in recent years.

In April, the board passed a budget that eliminated all regular busing beginning in September 2016, to save $650,000 per year, and ended all leases of smart phones and tablets to save another $150,000. Trustees had to address a shortfall in provincial funding of $1.68 million, and the Education Ministry asked the board to find administrative savings of $720,000.

Those cuts came after the board had slashed $8 million and 70 positions from the prior two budgets.

But Carr said there is no guarantee the district will get additional funding from the province, despite having higher enrolment. She noted that 41 of 60 school districts have increased school populations, and are all asking the Education Ministry to provide more funding.

“Does the ministry have the money to do that,” is the question, said Carr.

The ministry is auditing enrolment figures now, said Murray.

He said the past year has seen Superintendent Sylvia Russell complete her first year as the head of the organization, and the board has been pleased with the job she has done.

The district added elementary summer school programming, which was a success, and completed its facilities plan.

That plan will help to justify a new school in the Albion area, and Murray said that will be a main focus in 2016.

He noted some school boards have students as non-voting members, and adding a student voice will be another new initiative.

As vice-chair, Carr can step in for Murray, and also works with the chair and senior management team in preparing agendas for the board.

She said she doesn’t have her eye on Murray’s job as chair.

“Mike does such a good job of it – I don’t know that I could ever fill his shoes.”