With glum expressions and continued pleas for the province to increase education funding, School District #83 trustees voted to approve the upcoming year’s budget which includes more than $1.7 million in cuts.
Saying the cuts had gone well beyond the fat, board chair Bobbi Johnson noted the board was now cutting “in the bony parts” of services that children really need.
“It was gut wrenching to take some of those things out,” Johnson said.
All trustees present voted in favour of the budget, however, Armstrong trustee Bob Fowler was absent from the meeting.
While many programs and services had been proposed for reduction, the eventual casualties included funding support for literacy intervention teachers, supports for deaf and hard of hearing students, the elimination of staffing for the district’s honour choir and a drop in the number of certified education assistant hours.
In addition, class sizes are being increased in cases where enrolment is less than 20 students and the number of course offerings are being cut back. Reductions will also mean less maintenance work at schools, where a manager, carpenter, electrician, two painters and a grounds staff positions are being cut.
Closing off underused classrooms in various schools is also projected to save $184,000.
One of the areas which came under close scrutiny by members of the District Parent Advisory Council and the public was administrative costs, including travel and expenses. The budget has made reductions to three administrative areas totaling approximately $110,000 all of which contain reductions to travel and expenses to both the school board and staff.
A few hot topic items for parents, including speech and language supports, counseling and mental health services and the gifted program, were spared cuts in this budget, although the gifted teacher position and reduced grief counseling time are now being funded through a special fund designated for vulnerable students.
Reductions were also made to the proposed technology improvements, with a proposed $300,000 annual increase being reduced to $100,000. The school district also opted to split the cost of the upgrades over two years, resulting in a $380,000 payment in 2015/2016 and $345,000 in 2016/2017.
Rookie trustee Kelly Rowe noted the budget was an eye-opening experience, and said the board needed to rally with local politicians to lobby the province for better funding.
“The money that has been cut year after year, it’s staggering.”
It was noted at the at the recent meeting of the Southern Interior Local Government Association, CSRD director Rene Talbot’s motion to request that the province re-evaluate its funding system for education was passed and will now be forwarded to the Union of BC Municipalities for further action.
Superintendent Glenn Borthistle warned the trustees that further cuts are to be anticipated for future years, and as enrolment stabilizes, the school district will no longer qualify for the government’s funding protection.
“It’s like living off your credit line, and in reality we’ve been doing that for many years and we can’t keep doing that. We have to prepare.”