Coquitlam district wants needs budget for schools
School District 43 trustees are preparing to press their case for a more equitable funding formula once again before Education Minister Peter Fassbender with a so-called “needs” budget and a proposed meeting in Victoria.
Picking up the pieces after slashing $13.4 million from school funding — and 150 jobs — trustees expressed concern that services to students would be reduced and vulnerable children would be among those most hurt.
“This year’s cuts have gone beyond what we could ever have imagined,” Coquitlam Trustee Gerri Wallis said at Tuesday’s board of education meeting as she and her colleagues gave a laundry list of positions that were eliminated in an effort to balance the budget for the 2014/’15 school year. Among the cuts are reductions to speech and language pathologists, programs for gifted learners, psychologists, counsellors and youth workers.
At least one trustee worried about how school libraries will be able to stay open in September with cuts of 38.8 FTE to teacher librarian positions. Schools are being asked to staff libraries by changing the way library time is allocated, which could affect electives and explorations middle school students take to balance off academic courses.
Port Coquitlam Trustee Judy Shirra asked for a report on the school library situation in October, after schools are fully staffed, and said she wants information about waiting lists for special needs services by Christmas.
Trustees approved a needs budget listing programs and services that were cut or put on hold because of the funding situation, and asked that it be sent to the province’s education and finance ministers, along with a request to meet personally with Fassbender.
Board chair Melissa Hyndes, a Port Moody trustee, read out a letter that will be sent to the minister. She said the current funding system is inequitable and needs to be revamped, and noted trustees are prepared to head to the capital with representatives from teachers, parents and support workers’ groups if they get an audience.
Meanwhile, costs continue to climb for this year and a $500,000 deficit is being predicted, with higher costs for legal fees, substitute teachers and mid-year teaching changes. For example, legal services are about $65,000 higher than expected because of increased Freedom of Information requests and other non-legal activities requiring legal resources, and substitute teaching costs are up $143,000.
Some of these higher costs are offset by lower benefit costs, however, it was noted in the district’s latest quarterly financial report.