A shortfall of $5 million could see the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district cut bus service for all students

A shortfall of $5 million could see the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district cut bus service for all students

School budget hits CUPE hard

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School Board looking at cuts to teachers, office staff and buses

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School Board is looking at a 2014-2015 budget that will cut about 40 jobs and could eliminate bus service for all students but those with special needs.

“Without question, this is a difficult process,” board chair Mike Murray said as the proposed budget was introduced.

He said trustees also faced millions in budget cuts last year, so finding more this year was more difficult.

“Everything we do at this point will have an impact on students,” he acknowledged.

There were angry whispers and comments from approximately 35 CUPE members who filled the cramped board office in Maple Ridge on Wednesday, as secretary treasurer Flavia Coughlan read over the proposed budget.

She said there is a shortfall of $5 million, or about four per cent of revenues.

With 89 per cent of the board’s $125 million budget made up of salaries and benefits, that is where permanent savings had to be found.

CUPE faces numerous employee cuts, 23 full-time equivalent positions total. The cuts will come in support services for students with special needs, to clerical workers, and all high school career planning assistants, among others.

Christine McVeigh, a CUPE member from Westview secondary, said the increase of 3.5 per cent the union negotiated for her position should have resulted in an additional $1,000 annually, but that has been reduced by $800 because of the board’s reduction in her working hours.

“You’re taking away money from the lowest-paid workers,” she told the board.

“Why are there not more cuts to the upper echelon, when you’re obliterating an employee group,” she asked later.

There were many angry remarks from CUPE members as they filed out of the meeting, noting that their colleagues were losing their jobs.

“You’re not trimming fat, now you’re amputating,” is how one CUPE member described the budget.

Coughlan said the district’s reduction in staffing levels have not kept pace with declining enrolment. Next year, teachers will have slightly larger classes, and the number of classroom teachers will drop by 9.43 full-time equivalents.

At the kindergarten level, the class-size ratio will rise from one teacher for every 19.75 students to 1:20 students.

For primary classes, staffing will rise from 1:21.75 students, up to 22.

For intermediate, the ratio will go from 1:27.5 to 28.

These class sizes are still below the legislated limit, by two teachers, at every grade level.

“This is what we expected. It’s a little disappointing that they hit the groups that work directly with kids the hardest,” said George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association.


Bus cuts?

The budget notes the board is not required by The School Act to provide busing for students. It costs $1.2 million per year. There were 470 students on 12 regular buses in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, and 33 students with special needs on five buses. The annual cost is $1,400 per student on regular buses, and $10,000 per student with special needs.

The board will consider two options.

One will be an annual fee of $215 per student, to recover $104,900.

The second option would have the board discontinue regular bus services for an estimated annual savings of $880,000.



The shortfall is created by numerous factors, Coughlan explained.

Per-pupil funding from the province is dropping. The school district has experienced declining enrolment, down by 464 students since the 2008-2009 school year, despite the introduction of all-day kindergarten. The board is projecting a decline in enrolment of 90 full-time equivalent students for 2014/15.

There are also increased costs. Teacher salary increases due to increments (rising on the pay scale) will cost $930,000. Changes in employee benefits will cost $530,000.

The new collective agreement with CUPE employees, ratified by the provincial government in December, must be funded by the board from its existing budget under Victoria’s Cooperative Gains Mandate. It will cost an additional$400,000.

There are also inflation costs, rising utility fees, and the fact that the board used reserves to balance last year’s budget means a new source of revenue is required this year.


Future deliberations

The board will hold a public consultation session on April 16 at Maple Ridge secondary, 6-9 p.m., for public and partner groups. Registration is required.

Contact Karen Yoxall (executive assistant to the Board) at budget@sd42.ca or FAX 604-463-0573, no later than April 14

The final deliberations and adoption will be on April 30.

Serra wants local MLAs Doug Bing (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) and Marc Dalton (Maple Ridge-Mission) to answer to the public for the cuts. He disagrees with Dalton’s previous statements that Victoria has increased funding for education, countering that it has downloaded costs on local boards.

Serra said an analogy would be raising his son’s allowance from $10 to $15.

“And I spout all the time to my son that it’s the highest allowance he’s ever gotten, but then turn around and make him pay for his own clothes, then make him pay for his own food.

“That’s exactly what the government’s doing,” said Serra.

“So when Dalton spouts out ‘highest funding ever,’ he neglects to say they’ve downloaded so many costs.”