Parents speak out against Coquitlam district cuts

Coquitlam district parents, including Craig Woods and Heidi Gable, spoke out against cuts to special needs programs at a public board meeting on the budget Tuesday night. - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Coquitlam district parents, including Craig Woods and Heidi Gable, spoke out against cuts to special needs programs at a public board meeting on the budget Tuesday night.

A boisterous crowd of about 150 parents, teachers and support workers turned out for a special public meeting on School District 43's deficit Tuesday night, bringing their worries and concerns to trustees about the impact of $13.4 million worth of cuts on schools.

With about 160 FTE positions on the chopping block, concerns ranged from disappointment to anger.

Members of the Coquitlam Teachers' Association expressed frustration that recommendations included the hiring of managers, parents with the District Parent Advisory Council offered ideas for cuts that didn't include laying off teachers and support workers, CUPE 561 representatives called for more transparency and the Coquitlam Principals and Vice-principals Association said cuts would affect all levels of the K to 12 system.

Trustees responded with recommendations of their own, axing management positions and clawing back money from legal expenditures and their own professional development fund to put the money towards classroom.

The funds, amounting to about $200,000 are small compared to the deficit on a $270 million budget. However, trustees debated for some minutes on how to cut or re-organize the board office to save money, settling on a plan to defer the hiring of a finance manager that had been recommended to improve SD43 budget forecasting.

Two other management positions were put on hold as well, at the recommendation of the district's senior leadership team: a cafeteria coordinator won't be hired and a communications management position won't be replaced.

The highlight of the evening was a presentation by Kyle Parker, a Grade 12 student, who used his iPad to tell trustees how his speech pathologist, skill development teachers and education assistants are helping him graduate with his peers.

"Being able to talk helps me so much," Parker said with his augmentative device that was first introduced to him when he was in elementary school.


Some of the other comments included:

"163 families that will be adversely affected by cuts," Bruce Richardson, CUPE

"Every school at every level will be significantly impacted," Rob Foot, principal at Scott Creek middle

"The district psychologists, almost half of which are recommended to be cut, work with our struggling learners to identify learning disabilities and recommend adaptations we can use to help support these students," Frank Pearse, principal at Birchland

"We appreciate the difficult task ahead of you. The District Leadership Team gave it their best shot. Now, collectively and as a broader team, we have the opportunity to improve the budget before it goes to a vote," Chuck Denison, DPAC co-vice president.

"If you are asking others to sacrifice, then you should sacrifice. If others go without, you should be the first to go without," Charley King, CTA president.

"It makes more sense to set up a "contingency" fund when you have a surplus," Dave Ginter, president CUPE 561.

Trustees took comments from the audience until late into the night. The final budget is expected to be passed at the next board meeting on April 29.

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