EDITORIAL: Education funding squeezed again

School District 43 got the equivalent of a lump of coal in its Christmas stocking from Education Minister Don McRae last month. The bad news came in the form of a Dec. 3 letter requiring all school districts to find 1.5% savings in their budgets dealing with school support staff to pay for their share of the government's cooperative gains mandate in funding anticipated wage increases.

By mid-January, when the board of education next meets, it will be expected to find more than a million dollars in efficiencies to complement savings being proposed by the BC Public School Employers' Association in a proposed modernization of benefit and disability management.

For anyone not aware of the cooperative gains mandate, it's the looser version of the Net Zero mandate, in which wage gains are now permitted but only if savings can be found elsewhere. While this seems like a reasonable approach to funding wage hikes in the public sector, many school districts will struggle with finding loose cash without affecting service to kids.

Yet that is exactly what districts must do, according to McRae, although in all fairness, he recognizes that some districts might find it easier to do than others.

School District 43 is one of the larger districts in the province and has economies of scale that others don't. It has passed a balanced budget in previous years but it has struggled, cutting supply budgets and lengthening the Remembrance Day weekend and spring break to achieve savings, to name just a few initiatives.

It will be hard-pressed to find money, but that is what it will be expected to do in the coming year.

For those trying to balance their household budgets after Christmas, the prospect of cutting groceries or other necessities to keep up with anticipated higher taxes, fees and utilities is a daunting prospect.

No doubt many will sympathize with the pressures school districts will face, while others will just keep their heads down and hope to survive another year of belt-tightening.


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