All quiet on the budget front — for now
After years of difficult budgets, school closures, threatened layoffs and wrangling over cuts to school busing, School District 43 appears to be in a better position financially as it starts budget deliberations for the 2011/’12 year.
No layoffs are predicted but service levels aren’t expected to go up either, secretary treasurer Rick Humphreys told the board of education Tuesday.
“It will be a quiet budget year,” he said.
The introduction of full-day kindergarten has changed the landscape for SD43, which is now forecasting 603 more students next year, most of whom are five-year-olds who will be at school for a longer day.
Last year at this time, the district was forecasting a $4-million shortfall. Today, it’s expecting $5 million in additional grants for a total of $240 million to run 65 schools.
Still, there are issues.
There is no additional funding for special needs students or extra Community Link funding for vulnerable schools. As well, teachers, administrators and support staff say the system is running lean and many areas could use a cash infusion.
The Coquitlam Teachers’ Association, CUPE Branch Local 561 (representing support staff) and the Coquitlam Principals and Vice-Principals Association gave their shopping lists to the board (see related stories).
As well, higher Medical Services Plan and insurance costs are anticipated, and the district needs to upgrade its overburdened internet service. Costs to put in fibre optic cable at the board office and high schools and add tools for monitoring are expected to cost $2.5 million plus $290,000 a year or $785,000 annually over 20 years, and are on the list of possible items for consideration in the upcoming budget.
Humphreys also expressed concern during Tuesday’s meeting that SD43 has to pay about $500,000 to shore up districts with dropping enrolment in a “funding protection” scheme that has been roundly criticized by 13 districts that have stable or increasing enrolment.
“We were told this transition [funding] was going to be eliminated,” said Humphreys, adding that the fiscal framework for apportioning education grants should be replaced. “We need to come up with a new funding system... I’d like to be saying this is just my soap box, but it’s a fact.”
The district has about six weeks to firm up its budget and public meetings will begin April 5, with preliminary recommendations to be put before the board April 12.
The next meeting is at Winslow Centre at 7 p.m. in the Gallery Room. and more public presentations are expected. Winslow Centre is located at 1100 Winslow Ave. in Coquitlam.
Teachers: Don’t cut
Don’t let teachers bear the brunt of cuts.
That’s the message Coquitlam Teachers’ Association president Teresa Grandinetti presented to School District 43 trustees Tuesday in the lead up to budget discussions for the 2011/’12 year.
Grandinetti said teachers on call who fill in for teachers who are sick or on professional leave took the biggest hit last year when the district lengthened spring break and the Remembrance Day long weekend, and didn’t replace teachers for middle school incomplete days and secondary exams.
But there were other reductions last year, when literacy and French support teachers were reassigned, leaves weren’t filled and professional development support was reduced, Grandinetti said, affecting the job teachers do in the classroom.
While the district managed to balance its budget last year with $1.3 million in savings from these measures, Grandinetti urged the board to look elsewhere if it has to save money this year.
Busing services, long a bone of contention among trustees, was another area where cuts could be made, Grandinetti said, adding, “I’d like to see trustees face up to the challenge.”
Admins: Let us lead
Increasing demands on School District 43 principals are making it difficult for them to be education leaders, the president of the Coquitlam Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association told trustees Tuesday.
Administrators’ time is increasingly taken up by paperwork, teaching duties and even caretaker services leaving little time for pursuing innovation in the school, Judy Robb said.
The principal of Scott Creek middle said administrators would like morning caretaker service at nine schools as we well as more student service teachers and support workers for students with special needs.
Robb also requested trustees “petition for more funding for our most vulnerable children.”
The third item on the CPVPA’s list of budget requests is less teaching time for principals and vice-principals so they can spend more time doing administrative tasks and being school leaders.
As well, the CPVPA would like technology improvements, more non-enrolling teachers, such as counsellors and librarians, and more money for supply budgets.
Staff: A ‘Chevy plan’
CUPE Branch 561 is joining the chorus in support of morning caretakers for schools and president Dave Ginter offered some suggestions about how it could be done for SD43’s 2011/’12 budget.
“This isn’t the Cadillac, this is the Chevy plan,” Ginter said as he suggested schools lacking morning janitorial services could get by with sharing caretakers or adding and changing hours.
Ginter’s plan would cost $135,000 but would provide morning caretaker service to 12 schools, relieving principals from having to clean up litter and glass and shovel snow.
A school’s size determines how much caretaker time it gets but Ginter said principals shouldn’t be doing CUPE work and the issue could lead to a grievance and a possible arbitration.
“We may have a good case for that but the long route would probably cost $60,000 to get there,” he said.
CUPE is also asking for a supervisory position for student services to help with training, supervision and problem solving. Similar positions are in place in Surrey, Richmond and Vancouver, Ginter said.