School board cuts busing in budget

Victoria is ‘starving public education’ says teachers' union

  • Apr. 30, 2015 5:00 p.m.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board passed a budget that will eliminate regular school bus service, to save $650,000, on Wednesday night.

Some 370 parents whose children ride the bus will have to make other arrangements – and some have told the board their family will have to move – by September 2016.

Bus service for students with special needs will continue.

The majority of students effected attend Garibaldi secondary (202), Whonnock elementary (70) or Webster’s Corners elementary (54).

“We recognize this will be a hardship for the families,” said board Chair Mike Murray, who hosted a meeting with parents about the transportation cuts last week.

The board will also save $150,000 per year by ending all leases for smart phones and tablets, which are used in the Reading Fluency Project and Inquiry Project, by having students bring their own device to school in 2015-2016.

“That is a cost we’re passing on to families,” Murray acknowledged.

The board had to address a shortfall of $1.68 million in its operating budget of $130 million. It has also been told by the Education Ministry to find administrative savings of $720,000.

It balanced the budget with line-by-line trimming, small increases in class sizes, and by using $790,000 from reserves.

Murray noted the cuts come after slashing $8 million and 70 positions in the past two budgets.

Every trustee made it clear they were not happy in signing off on the document.

“The decisions we make each year at this time have become more and more unsavory,” said Eleanor Palis. “Sadly, there is no steadfast plan in place for students affected by tonight’s transportation decisions.”

Trustee Ken Clarkson speculated the government’s under-funding of the education system is being done with intention.

“This government is starving public education in favour of private, for-profit education,” he said, adding that PEI is the only province that spends less per student on education than B.C.

The board prepared material showing how much its per pupil funding has dropped since 2002-2003, when the current funding model was first introduced.

At that time, the board received $6,014 per student. There were 1,543 students with unique needs who represented an additional cost to the district, effectively reducing the per student funding by $515. The remaining funding was calculated at $5,499 per student.

For 2015-2016, the province gives $8,518 per student, but has not covered costs for rising salaries, benefits, inflation, labour settlements, declining enrolment, or the shortfall created by there now being 2,208 students with unique needs.

The board maintains that its per pupil funding has dropped from $5,499 to $5,205 per student over the past 13 years, even though the overall amount coming from government has risen by $2,504 per student.

“Hence, the difficult decisions the board has had to make over the last few years,” said secretary treasurer Flavia Coughlan.

She noted the board has been able to protect choice programs in the district and has maintained support for students with special needs and “core services.”