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Letters: Trustees share your frustration

Although preparing a balanced budget is always a challenging task, this year’s budget process has been especially difficult.

Editor, The News:

Re: ‘Trustees are missing the bus’ (The News, April 25).

Although preparing a balanced budget is always a challenging task, this year’s budget process has been especially difficult.

As a board, we share in the frustration of our employees who worry about the effects of the unrelenting budget cuts necessitated by provincial funding pressures.

We will soon be discussing our concerns with the B.C. School Trustees Association, our MLAs and with the ministry of education.

At the same time, we also worry about and want to minimize any misconceptions surrounding this process. To this end, we want to take a moment to address some of the most worrying misconceptions.

First, we would like to begin by stressing that the board will not be making any final decisions on the budget proposals until April 30th.

District administration and trustees have met with parents and affected employee groups several times since the proposed preliminary budget was released, and early indications are that we will be modifying a number of the initial proposals as a result of these consultations.

Second, although there is a general sense that the proposed cuts are inequitable, we must clarify that the proposed preliminary operating budget does in fact include cuts to salaried administrators, managers and exempt staff.

In fact, there have been cuts of over eight per cent to this employee group since 2008, and administrative salaries have been frozen for years.

The ongoing funding pressures are affecting all our employee groups.

Third, we would like to clarify that trustees did not give themselves a cost of living increase. This is an unfortunate misreading of the recently adopted trustee remuneration policy, which merely outlines the processes by which the board considers trustee remuneration.

Although this policy stipulates that, “Trustee remuneration may be adjusted for a cost of living adjustment on July 1st each year,” such an adjustment is by no means automatic, nor has this board made that adjustment at this time.

Perhaps most important of all, we wish to recognize and acknowledge the value that all our staff bring to the education system.

This board recognizes that any reduction in staffing means less attention to students while school is in session.

We will continue to review all our options and will discuss all of these reductions with our local MLAs.

Finally, we understand there is a sense that budget reductions could be avoided if boards across the province were to rally together and refuse to submit a balanced budget.

History, however, has taught us that such a revolt would only lead to the prompt replacement of an elected board by a ministry-appointed trustee, who would implement all proposed cuts without consideration for community feedback.

Not only, therefore, would we be in violation of our oath of office, we would also be doing a great disservice to our community.

The BCSTA has not been encouraging boards to take this step, and we know of no boards in the province considering such.

We know this is a difficult process, and we understand the frustration and sense of loss felt by many of our staff.

We are, as a board, committed to ensuring any budget reductions we make minimize the effect on students, and that all our decisions are informed by the discussions we have with parents, partner groups, and employees.

We must and we will continue to engage parents and community in a dialogue about education funding, and urge both to join us in lobbying the provincial government for more consistent and more appropriate provincial funding levels.

Mike Murray, chair

Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows Board of Education