Trustees have to make more cuts

Will try to lobby for more money as massive funding cuts expected for 2015/16 school year

When the province announced funding for education last week, the projected shortfall in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District went from approximately $2.5 million to $1.7 million.

But local educators aren’t taking the level of funding as positive. Nor is the rest of B.C.

School board trustees across the province are protesting the level of education funding. The B.C. School Trustees Association (BCSTA) estimates at least $32 million in budget cuts must be made simply to cover rising costs, for inflationary expenses such as rising MSP premiums and Hydro rate increases.

Local trustee Ken Clarkson is one of seven members of the provincial board for the BCSTA. Last month the local board sent Education Minister Peter Fassbender what Clarkson called “a pretty pointed letter,” lobbying for more funding, and the opportunity to speak with him about the matter in person. Since then, Clarkson has seen many other boards around the province follow suit, and the tone of frustration is the same.

“The boards are up against the wall,” said Clarkson. “I don’t think the government understands the duress we’re under.”

The education ministry has ordered $25 million in cuts this year, and $29 million next year, to be made in administrative savings. Clarkson said under the co-governance agreement between the province and school boards, education ministry staff should have met with the BCSTA board of directors, or at least the president, before ordering the cuts.

The premier suggested boards can make savings by sharing administrative operations between districts.

“It’s an insult to trustees,” said Clarkson. “She doesn’t understand the effects of cuts on boards.”

He noted the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows board has cut $8 million and 70 positions in its last two budgets.

Locally, unions are saying there is nowhere left to cut in the major employee groups. The board met with its employee groups and the District Parent Advisory Council this week to ask what they can do without.

Local CUPE president Leslie Franklin said her union recommended cutting the use of supplies and technology, as well as any outside contractors.

“There’s nowhere else to cut,” she said. “You can’t cut more support staff, and you can’t cut teachers.”

She added that the only other staff cuts would have to come from senior administration, to keep the impacts away from the classroom.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere else to cut. There have been way too many cuts,” said Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra.

He said a $1.7 million shortfall, while smaller than expected, is not good.

“The cuts that have already been made, with huge ramifications, are not being put back.”

“I guess we could teach without lights. We could stop cutting the grass,” he said.

He noted that a Vancouver Island district has achieved savings by lengthening the school day, but going to a four-day school week.

“But that’s not good for families,” said Serra. “There would be increased daycare costs.”

The board will get solid budget numbers, and recommended cuts from senior team, at its next board meeting on April 8.