School trustees urge Victoria to fund budget shortfall

New employee contracts could have a negative impact on School District 27 students.

More schools could close in the Cariboo Chilcotin if Victoria doesn’t come through with the money needed to cover new contracts with teachers and school support staff.

Potential school closures and program cuts were outlined in a letter to the premier, minister of education, and minister of finance that was endorsed by School District 27 trustees at their regular meeting Tuesday evening.

Four schools in the district including Glendale and Kwaleen elementary in Williams Lake were closed just last June to meet government budget constraints.

But even with those closures the district is anticipating a total budget shortfall of $2 million for the 2013-2014 school year.

“The board urges you and your government to give serious consideration to increasing overall funding for school districts in the 2014-15 school year to prevent further cuts to staffing, programs and learning resources and to ensure all students receive the opportunities they need to succeed,” Chair Tanya Guenther says in the letter. “We cannot achieve prosperity in B.C. by cutting corners on our children’s education.”

The reasons outlined for the $2 million shortfall are three-fold — declining enrolment (operational funding is provided primarily on a per student basis); the elimination over the next three years of funding protection from Victoria; and the failure of government to cover the cost of negotiated contracts with teachers and support staff.

School District 27 and the International Union of Operating Engineers (support staff) recently completed a contract that will cost the district approximately $250,000 this year and approximately $450,000 next year (2014-2015),” Superintendent of Schools Mark Thiessen said in an interview last week.

“These increases have not been covered by the provincial government. District leadership is still discussing the budget decisions that will need to be made to cover these increases, and we are not yet prepared to release these decisions to the public.”

In their letter to Victoria the trustees said they recognized the vital contribution of its support staff, who have been without a wage adjustment for more than four years.

“While this long-overdue increase is necessary, by the B.C. government’s own co-operative gains mandate, the board cannot cut services to find savings,” the letter states.

The letter states: “We are now actively preparing the 2014-15 preliminary budget and initial indications are that we can expect to continue this extreme budget shortfall. It should be mentioned here that our accumulated surplus is near depletion. This district cannot continue to support a structural deficit of this magnitude.”

The letter states that the district’s initial “savings” plan submitted to government indicates that rectifying the structural deficit without additional help from Victoria will mean closing two more schools and result in less support for students, reduction of programs, outdated and insufficient learning resources, textbooks and building maintenance and inadequate infrastructure to support technology in classrooms.

It also says the district’s management team continues to work on increased shared services and other cost-saving opportunities, but it is impossible to balance the district’s budget without making some difficult decisions that will have an impact on students.