School district faces more belt tightening

Shortfall now stands at $800,000

Cuts to public education keep coming – this year to the tune of almost $800,000 in School District 20 (SD20).

Early SD20 budget talks indicated a $590,000 shortfall, which already meant potential chops to teacher and counsellor positions, clerical jobs, the meals program, technology, transportation and custodial staffing and supplies.

Facing a $200,000 directive from the province to clean up “administrative efficiencies” as part of a $29 million order to 60 districts, a local union president says it’s time to stand up and make some noise.

Roger Smith, from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1285, is one of the region’s stakeholders presenting to SD20 trustees this afternoon prior to the public consultation slated for April 15 in the Kootenay Columbia Learning Centre gym

Others addressing the board include representatives from the Kootenay-Columbia teachers’ union and the district’s parents advisory council (DPAC).

Smith has been closely involved with budget talks for five years.

He recalls being advised three years ago that by 2015/16, “things would turn around,” with the possibility of a slight surplus in SD20 funding.

“That of course hasn’t materialized,” said Smith, the union leader for school bus drivers, custodians, clericals, maintenance, tech and trades, education assistants, childcare and youth workers, and aboriginal education employees.

“I want an update of what they are looking at to cut from administrative costs,” he said. “But ultimately, I think it will come down to cutting CUPE jobs.”

Smith maintains that if school districts continue to play the cards dealt by the ministry and achieving balanced budgets, then deeper cuts will continue to roll out year after year.

“What I’m saying to the trustees, is that you were voted by your constituents to advocate and fight for the best possible public education,” said Smith.

“How can that happen when you are accepting this bullying from the provincial government. That is what this is.”

He suggests the board gather chutzpah and take the option to say, ‘No, we are not putting in a balanced budget, you come and do it.’

“The more you accept it (cuts), the next year it will be more,” Smith said. “I’ve heard next year could be a minimum of $500,000 or possibly more. That’s speculation, but where can we keep cutting from,” he added. “I don’t see an end to this unless people take a stand.”

Although the province’s budget boasts a $110 million, or two per cent increase in education spending, it’s the fine print that left school districts and administrators in the lurch.

A ministry order mandated the province’s 60 school districts to cut $29 million in administrative efficiencies this year and $25 million in 2016.

The cuts are ongoing, which means the total “efficiencies” actually total $54 million next year.

While decisions haven’t been made, the board is in the beginning process to determine those areas to cut, said Darrel Ganzert, SD20 board chair. “At this point, we only have a list of possible areas to reduce,” he explained. “As a board we believe the potential cuts are to the bone.”

He says the additional $200,000 of “administrative savings” mandated by the province are just another way to cut funding to public schools, when private schools are getting increased funding.

Rebecca McDonnell, DPAC chair, says her members had a meeting planned Tuesday night to discuss the $590,000 operating deficit plus the additional educational administration cuts.

“I will feel in a better position to provide information at that point,” said McDonnell in a Tuesday email. “However, I can say that SD20 parents, just like many of those in the rest of the province, are extremely frustrated with the consistent under funding of the education system,” she noted. “And we are anxious to ensure that the administration cuts/efficiencies announced in the budget are realized in that capacity and not by further stripping our schools of programs and services.”