Comox Valley school trustees approved Tuesday an $83.5 million budget for the 2016/17 school year that will incorporate an alternate instructional week calendar.
Trustees and district staff have been wrestling with the challenges of a $2.8 million shortfall, stemming from decreased government funding due to a declining enrolment.
The alternate calendar — which translates into a 4.6-day week — will save the district $1.75 million.
At Tuesday’s meeting, staff presented a third and fourth draft of the new-look week. A glaring difference is teacher prep time: Draft 3 allots 40 minutes and Draft 4 just 10 minutes.
“I don’t know how 10 minutes of prep time could work,” said trustee Ian Hargreaves, who prefers the third option for its structure and teacher flexibility.
Board chair Tom Weber agreed that Option 3 provides the best opportunity while the fourth is more of a “forced arrangement.”
Trustee Vickey Brown also prefers number three for its teacher curriculum time.
“I’m angry we’re even having this discussion,” trustee Cliff Boldt said to a round of applause. “We’re being forced to make decisions with a gun at our head…We’re going to have to monitor this (alternate instruction week) very, very carefully.”
Some parents say the 4.6-day week will cut into their work schedules and increase day care expenses. Acting SD71 superintendent Tom Demeo has said the alternate calendar does not detract much time from elementary students.
Weber has said the savings are exclusively staff-related, and will translate into potentially between 17 and 19 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers.
The Comox District Teachers’ Association opposes the alternate instructional week because it will shorten school days for students and increase the workload for secondary teachers.
Weber has noted the alternate week allows teacher prep time to be moved to the end of Fridays, thereby not necessitating backfill staffing for teachers during the week.
Demeo expects to have a “definitive schedule” in place this week or next.
Sheila McDonnell — concerned about services to vulnerable students — was the lone trustee to oppose final reading of the budget bylaw.
“The $2.8 million shortfall has been a terrible burden for a district our size,” trustee Peter Coleman said.
He hopes trustees and staff can take steps that might result in better enrolment and a smaller deficit next year.