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Comox Valley school board feeling funding crunch

The Comox Valley Board of Education will send a letter regarding concerns about educational funding to Education Minister Peter Fassbender.

After approving the amended 2013/2014 budget last week, trustees had a lengthy discussion about numerous funding concerns, and the board voted to draft a letter to Fassbender.

"I think as a Board of Education we need to stand and say the funding formula is not working," said Rick Grinham, trustee and finance committee chair. "Our savings account is depleting, and by next year it'll be zero if we don't get some kind of support."

When the board approved the 2013/2014 budget last May, $619,000 was drawn from the district operating reserve to balance it. But the amended 2013/2014 budget, which totalled just under $84 million, saw that draw on the reserve end up being $1.3 million instead.

This increased need for reserve funds was due to increased cost pressures and lower revenues than expected, according to district secretary treasurer Russell Horswill.

The operating reserve now sits at just over $1.1 million, down from the $2.7 million it sat at last year. Although $276,000 was moved out of the operating reserve for a future technology refresh project, the bulk of the depletion was necessary to balance the budget.

Trustees noted the Comox Valley School District is in a better financial situation than some other districts in the province due to careful financial management.

Trustee Janice Caton recounted her recent attendance at the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) meeting at which Fassbender spoke.

"Provincially, we've been told there is no money and schools will have to make do with less," Caton told the Record. "The minister understands the cost pressures upon school districts, but he basically told us, 'You will have to do more with less.'

"Because of that philosophy from the government, school districts are having to make some difficult decisions and choices on budget because of all the downloading that they have put upon districts."

Rising MSP rates, the coming increases to BC Hydro rates, and CUPE support staff salary raises are a few examples of rising costs Caton says are not being funded by government.

According to Horswill, this year's MSP rate increase will cost the school district another $40,000 per year. He anticipates April's BC Hydro rate increase will cost the district $45,000 more per year. CUPE salary increases, which were negotiated by government with no new funding given to districts, cost the district $314,000 this year and will cost $580,000 next year.

Meanwhile, government is attempting to reach a 10-year deal with teachers, and the possibility that boards could be asked to find savings for a teacher salary increase — with no extra funding from government — was discussed. Teachers participate this week in a strike vote in an effort to apply pressure at the bargaining table.

The board also noted a concern that money from public education is being moved into private education.

Caton noted one trustee sitting near her at the BCSTA meeting had an education funding list showing a minus amount from public education with that same amount showing as an increase to private education. That trustee asked the minister about an increase to private education.

"His answer, the reason why private education got more money was because the cost of BC Hydro went up. Well, where is our money?" Caton said to the board.

Trustee Sheila McDonnell said 21st century education, which the BC Education Plan is based upon, will mean increased costs to deliver to students.

"We can make a sound education argument if he believes in 21st century education, if they want these changes, they need to invest in these changes," she said.

"Are we going to put up with this? Or, are we going to advocate strongly for the public system as the primary place to fund and support the future of this province?"

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

 

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