Comox Valley School District cutting jobs to balance budget

The Comox Valley Board of Education passed the 2012/2013 operating budget Tuesday, which includes cuts totalling $695,736 to better balance it.

The budget, which was passed unanimously by School District 71 trustees, includes 10-per-cent reductions to field trip budgets, course fees and supply budgets, and a five-per-cent reduction to library resources.

Some staffing cuts include: a half a full-time equivalent (FTE) daily physical activity position, 2.5 FTE education assistants, half of a FTE challenge program position, one daytime custodial position, and a journeyman carpenter position, along with a reduction of two groundskeeping positions from 12 months per year to eight months per year.

Secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill previously noted seven FTE teaching positions were cut based on the projected enrolment numbers, which have dropped. There have also been cuts to district administration.

At Tuesday's meeting, Horswill pointed out the funding shortfall ended up being less than was expected over a month ago.

"We were looking at a $1.3 million to $1.7 million shortfall, and at that time we had not received all the information on the revenue projections from the Ministry of Education," Horswill told trustees. "You can see the $1,049,820 — that is the amount of the actual shortfall after we've been able to pore through all the revenue projections."

After the spending cuts, that shortfall comes to $354,084, which Horswill noted will be covered by some of the school district's $2.4-million operating reserve.

The district will receive over $900,000 from the new Learning Improvement Fund (LIF). Horswill noted the plan for that money is tentative but $389,063 could go to pay for teachers' salaries and $362,592 could go to educational assistants' salaries, while $157,848 could go to services and supplies.

Comox District Teachers' Association president Steve Stanley expressed concern  in a news release about the allocation of these funds.

"The Ministry (of Education) directed boards to use a minimum of 12.5 per cent of the money for EAs (educational assistants), and we are very saddened to see that in fact they have used nearly 50 per cent of the LIF for this," he said. "We recognize the important and often essential role EAs play in the public education system, but they do not replace teachers and cannot do all of the duties of a teacher when it comes to planning, organizing, assessing and evaluating students."

Horswill noted 70 per cent of the funds will be spent now, and the other 30 per cent will be saved for the fall as per Ministry requirements. He added there was a consultation process for the allocation of portion being spent now, and there will be another consultation process in the fall, also as per Ministry requirements.

According to the Ministry of Education, LIF is designed for school districts to hire additional teachers and special education assistants, provide additional teaching time, and support professional development and training to help teachers meet complex needs in their classrooms.

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