The Comox District Teachers’ Association has suggested a number of reductions to help SD71 balance next year’s budget.
The proposed cuts — from eliminating the assistant superintendent position to reducing vice-principals — are largely at the administrative level. However, it appears the proposal would wind up costing the district about a million dollars.
“We were hoping that it (suggested cuts) would add up to about a million dollars in savings, but the district has informed us that it would cost about $1.1 million,” CDTA president Nick Moore said. “We are surprised and disappointed that that’s not an option.”
Acting SD71 supt. Tom Demeo said the situation isn’t cut and dry.
“You can’t just say, ‘this person goes’,” he said. “Contracts have clauses and stipulations, and those have to be honoured. Same thing with administrators. By law, if an administrator loses that gig, they’re offered a teaching job.”
In light of recent discussion about an alternate instructional week, the CDTA listed 16 possible measures to trim the budget.
Suggestions include reducing trustee stipends by 10 per cent, and freezing new administrator hiring.
“This is all a proposal,” said Moore, noting recent rumours of a four-day school week. “There’s actually no four-day school week on the calendar. It’s actually a 4.6 day.”
Secondary teachers, he notes, instruct seven classes of students in a year. Under an alternate instructional week, they would teach eight classes a year.
“By re-arranging the weekly schedule so that all the prep time is happening at once throughout the entire district, they (SD71) can eliminate about 18 teachers,” Moore said. “In the end, the district is going to have a tough decision.”
In recent years, Moore notes a “systemic underfunding” of public education in B.C. The main problem is declining enrolment.
“We’re not fighting administration here. We have to work with them to make the best of a bad situation. The district is given money from the provincial government. It’s not enough to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them…What’s going to happen is what happens every year. There’s going to be a reduction of staff. Ninety per cent of the school district budget is human…The one thing they can’t cut is teachers in the classroom.”
Though it hasn’t started the budget process for the next school year, Demeo said SD71 is facing about $1 million in lost revenue and is about $2.3 million in arrears, mostly due to an expected enrolment decline of 143 students. Funding protection is also a factor.
“What we’re hoping is to get our facts and figures together from the government asap, and present that as quickly as we can to all our partners so that people can see the actual facts and figures and then start the process,” Demeo said.
“You’ve got to look right across your system,” he added. “The problem is we’ve been in a deficit situation for so many years. When you look at the nature of our business, it’s people heavy…How do we keep supports for students, how do we keep supports for teachers, and how do we keep programs? Those are the hard ones.”
Moore notes the CDTA’s proposal to cut vice-principals in elementary schools with less than 500 students would “have a terrible impact on teachers.
“They help us manage difficult children.”
Another suggestion is to eliminate busing district-wide — which Demeo notes has been implemented in some Alberta jurisdictions.
“It’s another huge expense,” he said, noting the stress it would place on families.
Puntledge recommendation on agenda
The next school board meeting is tonight (Tuesday, Feb. 23), 7 p.m. at the district office at 607 Cumberland Rd. in Courtenay.
Demeo is scheduled to deliver a recommendation about the proposed closure of Puntledge Elementary to trustees at Tuesday’s meeting. The district is considering relocating Puntledge to Lake Trail School.
The public will have an opportunity to address the school board at a March 8 meeting at Puntledge from noon to 1 p.m. The school is located at 401 Willemar Ave. in Courtenay.
The board then meets March 15, when trustees could consider a motion.