Trustees pass $390 million budget with little comment

No teacher layoffs and money for 50 FTE equivalent positions for Tri-City public schools

In the end, it was a slam dunk as School District 43 trustees passed the 2019/’20 school operating and capital budget without making any changes.

The vote came despite impassioned pleas last week for more teachers, education assistants (EAs) and counsellors to deal with increasing challenges in classrooms.

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Only a handful of spectators turned out for Tuesday’s board meeting, which saw trustees approve a $390-million budget.

But for at least two members of the audience, the trustees’ speedy approval of a complex document was disappointing.

“I don’t know why nothing has changed for EAs,” said Edward Ram, a parent who is also a treasurer for the District Parent Advisory Council.

Ram said he was hoping to see improvements in working conditions for EAs while Ken Christensen, president of the Coquitlam Teachers' Association said he is unhappy with the lack of additional resources for the district’s Learning Inclusion Support Team, which helps students with behavioural and other issues.

A number of other requests, including a teacher to support education programs at the Mossom Creek Hatchery, and help for parents needing laptops for the students was also not raised by trustees.

There were, however, two trustees who opposed the budget — Port Moody's Keith Watkins and Lisa Park — but only Watkins explained why.

As he has in previous years, Watkins opposed the setting aside of a surplus for future years, arguing it is money that is at risk if the province decides school districts should no longer be allowed to carry forward surpluses.

“There’s too much surplus up front,” Watkins said, adding that he’s unhappy that $5 million in funding from international education funds from this year’s budget is going towards a $36-million learning centre. (The centre will be a multi-use facility located near Winslow Centre in Coquitlam and will have offices, a relocated board office, meeting rooms and flexible learning spaces.)

Other than pointing out the province has promised to make no changes to how it funds schools until 2021 and requesting explanations about how capital funds are accounted, trustees made no further comments about the budget.

The budget approved Tuesday means the district can continue to plan for schools for September.

It provides funds for 50 additional full-time equivalent positions to free up administrators from teaching, improve programs for gifted students and add more staff for projected student enrolment growth.

As well, funds are earmarked for 36 FTE positions for learning inclusion support workers and educational assistants to support students with special needs.

It was also announced that the school district will not be laying off any teachers this spring so it isn’t competing for employees with other districts to fill spots in September.

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