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School board proceeds with planned cuts

Bobbi Johnson - File photo
Bobbi Johnson
— image credit: File photo

The School District #83 Board of Education moved forward with a revised preliminary budget on May 13 for the coming school year that will involve reductions to a number of educational services.

The reductions are being made in order to accommodate a $1.8 million  deficit the district is facing.

“Many hours have been spent making these difficult decisions,” said Bobbi Johnson, board chair. “We take this decision to heart.”

A decrease in enrolment that is expected to continue to decline, resulted in staffing and supply reductions that saved $620,000, but the district was left with a remaining $1.2 million to be cut from school district operations.

The budget cuts will blanket a vast area of district programs such as reductions to the music program to save $20,000, cuts to deaf and hard of hearing programs to save $20,000, special education teachers’ reductions to save $40,000 and cuts to counselling staff to save $50,000.

Holly Overgaard, trustee for the North Shuswap, said that rather than eliminating programs all together, the board is making reductions with the hope they can rebuild these programs in the future.

Other reductions will be made to speech and language pathologists, the adult education program and gifted student programs.

Jennifer Henrie, who has a son who struggles with a language impairment, made a speech to the board asking them to reconsider making cuts to speech and language pathologists.

“Speech and language pathologists should not be cut; spending money on SLPs in the school is not a wasted endeavour or an elective,” said Henrie. “It’s core, it’s essential.”

Another substantial cut being made will be the change in elementary and middle school teacher/librarian staffing ratios to match those at the secondary school level. This will result in the loss of nearly three full-time positions and a savings of $283,400.

Geri Davey, teacher/librarian at Salmon Arm West Elementary, spoke with regard to these cuts and the changing role of the teacher/librarian.

“We are at a crossroads tonight, students are going to be faced with more closed library doors,” said Davey. “I know it may seem like we can’t afford our schools but what price will we pay?”

Shannon Murrels-Allaway, teacher/librarian at Parkview Elementary in Sicamous said she was upset with every cut that was proposed in the budget.

“I’m very concerned for our B.C. youth and school systems,” said Murrels-Allaway. “There’s so many basics that aren’t being covered.”

The school board made it clear that they have looked at all options available to eliminate the impact the budget cuts will have on parents, students and staff.

“Unfortunately we are down to a hand and are at the point of deciding which finger we are going to lose,” said Barry Chafe, Sicamous trustee. “These decisions aren’t taken lightly, but I don’t know how to get around it.”

Johnson said the board has been very vocal to the Ministry of Education with regard to receiving more funding.

“What we are left with to meet the budgets shortfalls are nothing less than human beings,” said Bob Fowler, Armstrong trustee. “If the government isn’t willing to invest, that’s what we’re left with.”

The possible solution presented to these cuts was the idea that the public needs to get involved and speak out to the ministry.

“Realistically, the public has been mute on it,” said Chafe. “Unless the public at large sends a message that this is not acceptable, nothing will change.”

Heather McDonald, a teacher at Shuswap Middle School, suggested making a public display such as a “Honk for Public Education” campaign.

“Certainly, we can wake up some people,” said McDonald. “Let’s act, let’s get on it, the time has come.”

When posed with the question if the board considered not passing the budget, the board stated that they did so to avoid facing the elimination of school boards all together.

Jackie Graham, parent, president of the Parents Advisory Council and employee of the district, said she wasn’t surprised to see the board go ahead with the budget approval.

“It’s upsetting as a parent,” said Graham. “It hurts our students, hurts our teachers and hurts our parents.”

The budget will move forward to the June 10 meeting where the annual budget bylaw will be presented for approval. The full budget report can be found on the School District #83 website at www.sd83.bc.ca.

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