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Coquitlam school district defends financial analysis against BC Liberal MLAs' claims

Concerned teachers at a recent Coquitlam district board meeting on the budget. School District 43 officials blame downloading for fiscal troubles. - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Concerned teachers at a recent Coquitlam district board meeting on the budget. School District 43 officials blame downloading for fiscal troubles.
— image credit: DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

School District 43 administrators are speaking out against what they say is an inaccurate portrayal of the district's finances and enrolment levels by local MLAs in the media.

Superintendent Tom Grant and secretary treasurer Mark Ferrari say they stand by their analysis that costs downloaded by Victoria are causing the district's financial difficulties.

At Tuesday's board meeting, the two expressed frustration with media reports, including in The Tri-City News, in which two Tri-Cities BC Liberal MLAs said the district should be able to manage with its current funding levels because its enrolment has declined.

MLAs Douglas Horne (Coquitlam-Burke Mountain) and Linda Reimer (Port Moody-Coquitlam) said SD43 has lost students since 2000/’01 while funding has increased.

But Ferrari and Grant say enrolment has actually been flat — especially over the last five years, when most of the financial squeeze has taken place because provincial funding has not kept up with costs.

Calling the MLAs' reference to 2000/’01 for an enrolment comparison "arbitrary," Ferrari said he "stands by his numbers." And he added that for SD43 to cut expenses, there is nowhere else to turn but to cutting jobs.

Grant, meanwhile, criticized what he called "mandate creep," with the province placing $16.3 million of costs pressures on SD43 without compensating funds to cover them.

"Indeed this is more than just increases to inflation," Grant said.

He also itemized the following costs as downloading to the district:

• $2 million extra each year in covering the unfunded liability of teachers' pensions, plus $700,000 in increases in other benefits;

• $220,000 this year for costs related to a new provincially mandated student tracking system, with similar costs expected next year;

• $2 million to cover CUPE wage increases — which were negotiated provincially — without funding increases to pay for them;

• changes in how adult courses leading to graduation are funded, with the district stuck with paying when people don't finish them or don't get 60% in the course;

• $650,000 in higher utility costs;

• $2 million as the result of changing over to a new accounting standard;

• $2 million to $3 million redistributed to districts needing funding protection for declining enrolment.

"We don't get enough to cover all these items plus inflation on an annual basis," Grant said.

STAFF CUTS

School District 43 has to cut $13.4 million from its budget for next year and most of the money saved — approximately $10 million — will come from job cuts, including a reallocation of librarian time, with libraries remaining open but other areas being reduced for a total of 38.8 FTE. Other job cuts include (FTE rounded, not a complete list):

• 2 HUB learning support teachers

• 3 psychologists

• 4 speech and language pathologists

• 2 itinerant behaviour positions

• 6 learning success coordinators

• 3 school located district program staff

• 1 teaching and evaluation centre position

• 13 class size and composition teachers

• 12 learning support teachers

• 2 counsellors

• 8 international education teachers

• 27 teacher and education assistants

• 5 youth workers

• 6 facilities workers

• 3 IT technologists

• 7  middle school cafeteria staff

(Note: SD43 plans to put $410,000 into educational assistants for high need students and resources for vulnerable children, according to budget projections.)

 

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