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Speech and other special help is in jeopardy in SD43

Grade 12 student Kyle Parker and his mom, Caroline, were among the people who spoke out against Coquitlam district budget cuts Tuesday night. - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Grade 12 student Kyle Parker and his mom, Caroline, were among the people who spoke out against Coquitlam district budget cuts Tuesday night.
— image credit: DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

There will be fewer psychologists, speech and language pathologists, and other professionals who work with vulnerable kids in Tri-City public schools next year and the consequences could be disastrous.

That was the consensus at Tuesday’s School District 43 board of education meeting as groups representing parents, teachers, principals and support workers took turns expressing concerns about the effect $13.4 million in cuts could have on children with learning difficulties.

Through some adjustments to spending, SD43 was able to save approximately six jobs out of the original 163 full-time equivalent (FTE) that were proposed to be cut. But the district still faces a major reorganization of special needs learning services next September as well as cuts to librarian time that could affect music and other programs; the closure of middle school cafeterias; a 10% hike in food prices at secondary school cafeterias; a reduced supplies budget for schools; and an end to school busing.

For many parents who spoke, the primary concern was saving speech and language services, a language class for special needs children at Central elementary and school psychologists, and reinstating programs that help kids with behavioural issues. They called on trustees to instead axe management positions and defer filling new positions.

Coquitlam parents

“We’ll see greater frustration, more mental health concerns and increased behaviour problems in classrooms as students and teachers lose the supports they need,” said Heidi Gable, past-president of the District Parent Advisory Council.

PRINCIPALS CONCERNED

Her comments were echoed by members of the Coquitlam Principals’ and Vice-principals’ Association (CPVPA), who said cuts will affect all students across the board, with specific challenges in providing library, choir, band and middle school explorations instruction as well as special needs support.

“With the proposed cuts to counselling, class size ratios, EAL [English as Additional Language] and international staffing, some of us are not even sure how we can build a timetable that provides all of our students with a minimum of eight courses,” said incoming CPVPA president Heather Murphy, principal at Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox secondary.

The last public meeting before next Tuesday’s final budget approval was an emotional one, punctuated with standing ovations and, occasionally, heckling.

But one teenager got everyone’s attention when he gave a speech using his iPad, with the support of his parents.

Kyle Parker, a Grade 12 student, said his speech pathologist, skill development teachers and education assistants are helping him graduate with his peers — all positions that are facing the knife this year as the district tries to balance the budget with rising costs.

Among the harsher critics of the budget for the 2014/’15 school year were Charley King, Coquitlam Teachers’ Association president, and CUPE Local 561 president Dave Ginter. Both took the district to task for not doing enough to save jobs,

King said teachers he has talked to are “disgusted” by management hires — although these have since been mostly withdrawn — and Ginter, whose union represents district support staff, called for other cost savings, such as extra vacation benefits in lieu of overtime for some non-union staff and cutting the number of assistant superintendents.

“I didn’t expect this would be easy,” board chair Melissa Hyndes said later. “Emotions are high.”

TRUSTEES HEARD

But Hyndes noted that the trustees’ decision to not spend their professional development money ($33,500), to cut a proposed increase in the budget for legal expenses ($50,000) and the delay to a finance manager hire ($115,000) would be used to save the job of a psychologist and a speech language pathologist, with the rest of the funds going toward class size and composition issues.

“We heard from a lot of people about the important work that speech pathologists do and the board felt the cuts to those areas were too deep, so they felt they should add those positions back,” the Port Moody trustee said.

The district has also pulled back from eliminating a language class at PoCo’s Central elementary, and saved an additional speech language and pathologist job, although four will still be cut out of 13; as well, about three teaching positions will be saved by re-allocating other funds, delaying a management hire and changing some jobs. Still, Moody middle school will lose a youth worker, sharing one with Como Lake middle instead.

• The final SD43 budget meeting will be held next Tuesday, April 29, 7:30 p.m. in the Gallery Room at Winslow Centre, 1100 Winslow Ave., Coquitlam.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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