EDITORIAL: Who's responsible for $7.5M deficit in SD43?

School District 43 superintendent Tom Grant’s roll-up-your-sleeves, everyone-work-together approach to whittling down a shocking $7.5-million deficit may actually get the job done. Education funding is both fluid and political, and with a provincial election in the offing, there could be an injection of cash to offset some of these cost overruns.

But these potential fixes don’t absolve the trustees serving students, parents and taxpayers in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Anmore and Belcarra of the responsibility to ask some tough questions — including of themselves.

Last May, those nine elected officials passed a budget rich with program expansion and staff thanks to a modest surplus plus promising student numbers and revenue projections — and they did so unanimously and with little to no public discussion. Now, those same nine people find themselves and our community’s public schools in a much tighter financial situation with no rainy day fund to help.

Some of the questions they should ask include:

• Should the district rely on fees foreign students pay to attend school here?

• What happened to 223 missing students?

• Do better controls need to be in place to prevent such large financial mistakes in the future?

Finally, and most crucially, they should ask themselves: What did we do wrong?

While on one hand, School District 43 could be congratulated for its non-adversarial approach to school business compared to other B.C. school districts, where divisive politics can hamper progress, the united front — presented, at least, at public board meetings — gives rise to fears that not everyone is paying as close attention as they should and if, everyone agrees, then something could go amiss.

Last week, it was CUPE Local 561 president Dave Ginter who revealed that the emperor wore no clothes when he pointed out that it was inaccurate calculations — not, as Coquitlam Trustee Brian Robinson tried to claim, provincial spending on advertising — that resulted in the deficit. Coquitlam Teachers’ Association president Teresa Grandinetti followed up with a similar critique, although somewhat muted because it’s mostly substitute teachers who will be affected by the cuts.

Still, it was a rare dark cloud of dissension for a public body where everyone seems to agree, regardless of the degree to which doing so stretches credulity.


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