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Cafeteria, music, learning support, busing on the chopping block

Superintendent Tom Grant and board chair Melissa Hyndes talk about the Coquitlam district budget and proposed cuts at Tuesday
Superintendent Tom Grant and board chair Melissa Hyndes talk about the Coquitlam district budget and proposed cuts at Tuesday's public meeting.
— image credit: DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

The future of school libraries, school busing, learning services for special needs students and cafeterias for tweens and teens will be on the chopping block next week when School District 43 trustees take another look at trimming $13.4 million from the bottom line.

With few non-salary places to cut and supply budgets already stripped, SD43 is considering cuts to 163 full-time equivalent positions, as recommended by the district’s leadership team Tuesday night.

Tweaks are still possible to save jobs and programs between now and Tuesday, when an actual budget is presented, but board chair Melissa Hyndes gave little hope that much can be done.

“I know that our team have been meeting for the last two days and putting together some options, different options, although I’ve been told they’re not really much better than the first options,” said the Port Moody trustee.

The efforts to soften the blow of job cuts before next Tuesday’s meeting comes as districts across Metro Vancouver are reporting deficits, with some board chairs and senior officials taking to the media to argue that funding has not kept pace with rising costs.

TEACHERS' JOB ACTION

Also this week, the BC Teachers’ Federation sought a ruling on essential services, which would allow the union to give 72-hour strike notice to back contract demands, although initial job action is not expected to affect classrooms. Immediate plans are to withdraw supervision and refuse contact with management.

But the Tri-Cities two BC Liberal MLAs say funding is not the problem in SD43 because grants to the school district have increased 35%  since 2000/’01 and per-pupil payments have increased 39% while enrolment has declined over that period.

“When I was on DPAC [District Parent Advisory Council] in 2002/2004, enrolment was 32,300 students and, in 2013/’14, that has dropped to 30,400 roughly — that’s a loss of 1,800 to 2,000 students, or 6% of the students population,” Coquitlam Port Moody MLA Linda Reimer said, adding that the district is also getting $3.9 million in Learning Improvement Funding to support vulnerable students.

MONEY MAKES SENSE

Both Reimer and Coquitlam-Burke Mountain MLA Douglas Horne were answering charges from SD43 officials who say funding has not kept pace with higher costs, and the district has had to absorb downloaded costs, such as CUPE wage increases that were negotiated provincially but not funded by Victoria. According to SD43 figures, if grants had kept pace with inflation, the district would have another $16.3 million to spend — enough to cover its current deficit.

While Horne agrees with the district that it may be time to review how public education is funded, he doesn’t agree that SD43 should be comparing itself with rural districts that face unique challenges, such as geographic and transportation issues that require more funding.

“To anyone whose looking at it with an eye to understand, it makes sense the way it is,” Horne said, noting that SD43 is no longer at the bottom of the pack when it comes to per-pupil funding.

“We’ve actually moved up the scale,” Horne said.

Meanwhile, Hyndes is hoping parents join forces with trustees in lobbying the province for money. At Tuesday’s board meeting, she asked the community to rally for public education and she reiterated that statement in an interview with The Tri-City News, adding that it will be difficult to repair the damage to SD43 schools from this round of cuts.

“How I look at it is, there are so many things we would have loved to be able to provide and do, and this has set us back where to rebuild is going to take a long time.”

Among the recommendations to save money starting in September are closing middle school cafeterias and making changes to secondary school cafeteria services to save money as these programs run at a loss, as well as eliminating all non-special-needs before- and after-school busing, and chopping benefits for retired school board employees.

LIBRARIES WON'T CLOSE

Libraries won’t close as schools will have to find different ways of allocating librarian time but, overall, 38.38 FTE librarian positions could be cut from the budget, and some of the programs that may be affected by the changes could be middle school explorations classes.

In all, SD43 is looking at cutting as many as 163.3 FTE positions, most of them teachers. although 22 FTE support staff, 33 education assistants and four administration FTE positions are also in jeopardy.

The district leadership team’s recommendations have yet to be approved by the board.

Trustees also voted to include a $900,000 contingency fund as a safeguard against an emergency. The decision followed a heated debate during which three trustees expressed concerns the district was saving money that could be clawed back by the government.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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