Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union president Andy Davidoff expresses his disbelief at the impending loss of 14 full time positions.

School District 20 – Lack of debate adds pain to cuts

SD 20 board of trustees unanimously passed the first two readings on a balanced budget Monday night.

The ghost of a proposed school district budget past became the specter of a school district budget present as the board of trustees unanimously passed the first two readings on a balanced budget Monday night.

However, the balancing act came on the backs of nearly 14 full time job losses throughout the region — including two teacher-librarians, almost eight teachers, three non-enrolling teacher staff, and one custodian — with a motion towards consideration of school closures still forthcoming.

Much of Monday night’s crowd of 40 people first heard the budget cuts presented last week in a public meeting in Trail but in proposal form.

Nothing had changed since that committee of the whole meeting last week, even though the board had been “open” for comment on what the document contained since Wednesday night. Instead, people bore witness to the quick passage with no deliberation of the budget in the special open board meeting at Blueberry Creek Community School.

The $42-million budget for 2012/13 wasn’t well received last week in a proposal form from SD20 administration, and it was even less tolerable Monday by those assembled in the school’s gymnasium.

In less than 20 minutes — with no explanation of the budget’s line items or any debate on the cuts — the board of trustees approved the first two readings of the School District 20 (Kootenay Columbia) annual budget bylaw.

The swift passage of the financial document that will see 13.6 full time equivalent staff positions phased out across the board for the coming school year raised the ire of the crowd, and they voiced it when the floor opened for public comment.

The lack of debate was a joke, said CUPE Local 1285 shop steward Darlene Schultz, a bus driver expected to have her employment reduced even as she nears retirement.

“There may have been debate that happened in private, but there certainly was no debate here tonight. None of the public had any opportunity to have any input in regards to the particular line items,” she told the board.

“The feeling I have right now about the concern this board has for me is: zero.”

The district needed to look after its staff, not lay them off or curtail their pay, said another lady. She said if they did so there would be a better working environment and staff would feel appreciated.

“Whereas right now, you’ve got probably 80 per cent of the staff saying, ‘Geez, if I could go somewhere and do something else I sure would be gone,’” she said.

Nobody likes to cut anything from the budget said Darrel Ganzert, a former teacher-librarian himself and the current chair of the SD20 board. He hinted that by “moving money around,” and some give and take on contract issues between the unions and management, some jobs being cut could be saved.

“I am hoping in the next couple of weeks that some breakthroughs will be made that will be satisfactory so that we might not need to head in that direction,” he said after the meeting. “If there is some movement then those issues (cuts) might not have to be implemented.”

He told the crowd there was a possibility of reviewing the proposed cuts.

“The budget is a snapshot, it is a budget that shows our intention,” he said. “In some areas we will save the money we are speaking of, and in other areas we might not. There is going to be some flux back and forth.”

The job cuts were necessary for the coming year to deal with a $1.55 million operating shortfall in the district — and rising internal costs for sick leave that are now $400,000 over budget — covering a three per cent drop in funding from the Ministry of Education.

Cutting the teacher positions meant the district would save $1.17 million in 2012/13, the largest chunk out of the $1.58 million in total cuts made. With custodial staff possibly being cut from 12-month to 11-month employees, the district expecting to save $113,841.

There will also be a district-wide rise in student-to-teacher ratio — from 24-1 to 25-1 — that could impact the electives offered at the high school level.

A motion was also passed at the meeting to consider possible reconfiguration or closure of Castlegar area schools with a decision to be made by Dec. 31, 2012 and implementation in September, 2013.

Included in the consultations, but not limited to, are making Twin Rivers Elementary School kindergarten to Grade 7 and closing Castlegar Primary School, or combining Twin Rivers Elementary School and Castlegar Primary School to be one school with two physical campuses.

In addition the board will consider possible reconfiguration or closure of Rossland schools with a decision to be made by Dec. 31, 2012 and implementation in September, 2013.

The board will look at making Rossland Secondary School (RSS) kindergarten to Grade 12 and close MacLean Elementary, or make RSS kindergarten to Grade 9, close MacLean, and send RSS grade 10-12 students to J.L. Crowe Secondary in Trail.

The board could also make MacLean kindergarten to Grade 7, close RSS, and send RSS grade 8-12 students to J.L. Crowe.

If approved at the next board meeting, the budget cuts and changes will take effect July 1.

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