School system needs more cash: report

All-party committee tells province to put more money into the education system.

Local educators are hoping for financial relief after the province was told by an all-party committee to put more money into the education system.

“Duh,” was the reaction of Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra.

“The fat was trimmed years ago,” he said. “They can’t deny it anymore, the writing is on the wall.”

That “writing” Serra refers to comes from an all-party legislative committee that has been consulting with British Columbians in advance of the 2014 budget. Of the 10 committee members, six were Liberals Party members, including chairman Dan Ashton.

“Sufficient evidence was presented to the committee indicating that the K-12 system is experiencing cost pressures as a result of inflation and aging school facilities,” said the committee report. “The committee, therefore, recommends that enough funding be provided to schools to meet rising costs and capital needs while ensuring strong educational outcomes for B.C. students.”

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district struggled with a 2013-2014 budget that had a $5.66 million shortfall, and cut 35 positions across the district. A higher-than-expected enrolment will bring in additional per pupil funding of approximately  $800,000, meaning the total shortfall will be just under $5 million.

On the other hand, CUPE employees of the district have negotiated a wage increase of 3.5 per cent over two years, and even though it will cost approximately $1 million, Victoria has told school boards that the money has to be found within existing budgets under the province’s Cooperative Gains Mandate.

No new funds are coming, has been Victoria’s position.

Local school board chair Mike Murray said the Maple Ridge district did not speak directly to the committee, but joined numerous trustees across the province who have been writing the education minister and lobbying for changes in fiscal policy.

“It would be great if we could get there as quickly as possible,” said Murray.

The all-party committee appeared to recognize that inflationary pressures have outpaced government funding as it recommended: “Provide sufficient funding for the K-12 system to enable B.C. students to become top performers nationally; and address cost increases for school districts (e.g. rising B.C. Hydro rates).”

Aging facilities were also addressed, as the committee advised government to develop a capital plan for education buildings which “takes into account increased maintenance and aging school facility upgrades; and continue the seismic upgrading program.”

“It will be interesting to see what the response is,” said Serra. “The system needs increases yesterday.”

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