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Funding 'inequities' rankle Coquitlam school board

"Why aren't you funding us to the same level as the surrounding area?" asks School District 43 Trustee Judy Shirra.
Judy Shirra
Board chair Judy Shirra says Coquitlam school district continues to be underfunded. The board made the claim to a recent provincial standing committee on finances.

Large school districts with inner-city populations of vulnerable students are shortchanged when it comes to funding for special programs, a School District 43 report shows.

A funding comparison of B.C.'s three largest districts, Vancouver, Surrey and Coquitlam, plus seven much smaller districts, show CommunityLink funding is not proportionate to student population.

SD43 is last out of the 10 districts surveyed, getting just $1.42 million for this program even though enrolment is 31,273 students. Next door in New Westminster, its district gets slightly more funding than SD43, $1.48 million, even though its student populations is just 6,918 students.

"There is inequity there, we are shortchanged," said board chair Judy Shirra, who said SD43 should get twice as much funding as it now gets for these students — that would be between $3.3 million and $3.7 million based on enrolment.
While SD43 appears to be a prosperous community, there are pockets of poverty, Shirra said, and more low-income families are moving to areas where there is affordable housing.

"It's in all of our schools and we are certainly seeing it, with detached kids who are not coming to school," said Shirra, a Port Coquitlam trustee.

As well, she said the district continues to struggle with a disturbingly high rate of suicide contemplation, with 14% of teens reporting that they had considered suicide and 6% saying they had attempted suicide, according to a recent McCreary Centre Society Adolescent Health Survey.

"It's mental health issues," she said, and without CommunityLink, "there's none of that extra stuff" to support students.

Typically, CommunityLink money goes to pay for lunch and snack programs, academic supports, counselling, youth workers and after-school programs, and the small amount of funding hasn't been enough to offset cuts to services to vulnerable students made in recent years to balance the budget.

But Shirra said the provincial funding formula ignores the fact SD43 has an inner-city population and higher rates of vulnerability in neighbourhoods where children are not ready for kindergarten when they start school.
"Why aren't you funding us to the same level as the surrounding area? If you look at that and give us a little bit more, we can do even better by our most vulnerable kids."

The district is also concerned about what it sees as another inequity: funding protection cash that goes to districts with shrinking student populations. SD43's enrolment is growing, adding 300 students this year, but it is in the bottom 2% in the province in per-pupil funding.

It recently met with the province's standing committee on finances and has sent a letter signed by teachers, principals and other staff, plus parents, raising the issue.



Vancouver    52,943        $8.89 million

Surrey        69,446        $3.85 million

Gr. Victoria    18,478        $3.82 million

Burnaby        23,183        $2.28 million

Nanaimo-Ladysmith    12,933    $2.19 million

Prince George 12,702        $2 million

Langley        19,595        $1.94 million

Kamloops/Thompson 14,018    $1.56 million

New West    6,918        $1.48 million

Coquitlam    31,273        $1.42 million