Rosy school budget coloured by labour talks, funding concerns

SD43 is holding budget discussions today as it finalizes its numbers for the next school year

School District 43’s good news budget will add dozens of support workers and teachers to school classrooms in September but is being debated under a cloud of uncertainty.

There will be more support for students with special needs if trustees pass a proposed operating budget for the coming school year.

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But most of the help, 26 of 36 FTE (full time equivalent) support worker positions, will be from new Learning Inclusion Support workers, a position created this year to free up education assistants to deal with students with more intensive needs.

And the new positions don’t have the support of the CUPE 561 local, although they are viewed as necessary by SD43 officials anxious to quell concerns by parents, some of whom have taken their issues to the media.

“It’s really providing a resource to students with special needs who aren’t getting the support they should be getting,” secretary treasurer Chris Nicolls told the Tri-City News in defending the new workers.

While learning inclusion support workers will be paid less and have one fewer year of post secondary education than regular education assistants, they will fill crucial gaps in the system, Nicolls said.


MORE CASH PROJECTED

The push to get more help in classrooms appears to be a top focus for the board of education which will finalize the 2019/20 budget Tuesday, April 23.

Tonight, parents, teachers, support workers and other groups are expected to present their thoughts on the proposed budget, which could, result in some changes to the financial plan.

But the elephant in the room is how labour talks will progress. They are ongoing locally for CUPE and provincially for the Coquitlam Teachers’ Association, and a strike could prove disruptive.

As well, the district and teachers are concerned about how the new education funding formula will effect SD43 finances.

In budget documents released last week, SD43 officials proposed a plan to spend $325.4 million for the next school year, up $10 million from the current year, with most of the extra money for spending coming from the provincial government and surpluses from previous years.

In all, 50 FTE positions will be added to the budget, including more teaching time to provide additional support for middle school gifted programs and time to free up principals to do administrative tasks. As well, four more classroom teachers will be hired to cover for projected student enrollment growth.

MULTI-YEAR PLANNING

That’s the good news.

However, provincial funding formula changes already in place shifted nearly $1 million from SD43 to other regions with unique student and geographic needs and the district received $300,000 less than it was expecting to cover the 1.95% Employer Health Tax that went into effect Jan. 1.

What that means is less money in classrooms for student needs. “The board has had to absorb those costs,” Nicolls noted.

He’s also concerned that plans to change the provincial funding formula, delayed until next year, could mean less money for SD43 programs.

This is the first year SD43’s financial planning included multi-year projections, and if no changes are made to the provincial funding formula, the district is in a good position to meet its funding obligations, largely through modest increases in enrollment.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

The other main challenge looming on the horizon is labour negotiations, with both the Coquitlam Teachers Association and CUPE agreements expiring this June. While a tentative agreement has been reached for CUPE support staff, local bargaining is set to take place soon.

Union head Dave Ginter, president of local 561, has gone on record as opposing the learning inclusion support worker position and wants improvements to hours and benefits for education assistants, among other things.

As for teachers, provincial bargaining is ongoing, and one of the sticking points, beside salaries, could be the proposed new funding format in which special needs students would be funded using a prevalence or predictive model rather than targeted funding based on actual numbers.

In its planning document, SD43 notes that bargaining is largely out of local control, and labour strife is something to be avoided.

LABOUR ISSUES

Indeed, it was after the 2014 teachers strike that SD43 lost 5% of its enrolment.

In 2014/15, SD43 student numbers dropped 2.5% to 30,748. However, they have since been slowly ramping up, with 32,369 students projected for 22/23, based on provincial and SD43 estimates.

But with teachers supporting an NDP government, it’s unlikely things will come to a head like they did under the BC Liberals, when job action began in spring, schools were closed after the Labor Day weekend, with parents offered $40 a day for daycare costs.

A resolution finally came after a marathon negotiating session — and after schools were closed for two weeks.

SD43 hopes this year’s negotiations will fare much better, as it notes in its budget, labour disputes cause major disruptions to school, hurt relationships and can have an impact on student success.

To read the full budget plan, visit www.sd43.bc.ca

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