Board to vote on community school cuts

Proponents up in arms over decision-making process

  • Jun. 24, 2011 8:00 a.m.

Funding for community schools and their programs could be cut in half next year when the school board votes on final approval of CommunityLINK Monday night.

Although losing $75,000 between the schools is a devastating blow to the programs offered, many feel the bigger issue is the bypass of previous procedures used in the budget process.

Laurie Watson, co-ordinator at Robson Community School for the past 15 years, explained that in the past the Opening Doors and budget review committees, made up of numerous stakeholders, has always had consultation with the school board when it came to funding cuts and together tried to minimize negative impacts.

This year that didn’t happen, she said, adding that she was blindsided by the news.

“It was presented that there would a funding shift in the CommunityLINK funding … but it wasn’t explained at the meeting.

“We had no idea it was a cut to the community school fund,” said Lisa Stewart, chair of the District Parent Advisory Council, who was at the budget review meeting when the shift was proposed.

In minutes from the next meeting, all parties involved said they were disappointed that was not made clear when they voted on the cuts.

“I’m very upset about it, it shouldn’t have been done that way and it’s an insult to parents and community people to say ‘we’ve reached that decision and now here it is’,” said trustee Mickey Kinakin, a trustee alternate for the budget review committee, adding that this is completely different from anything that has happened before.

Bev George, co-ordinator of Blueberry Creek Community School and former trustee, said they weren’t even made aware that the funding had been cut — it just appeared as a small budget item in a budget meeting at the end of April.

She said that later she and the other two co-ordinators received an email from the board asking what programs they would be able to run now that the cuts had been made.

“Usually if you’re going to cut someone’s funding you go to them and say ‘this may happen, what is that going to look like for you when all this is said and done?’ But there was never that courtesy.”

George wrote to Minster of Education George Abbott, asking him to intervene but was told by the ministry’s CommunityLINK co-ordinator that things must be worked out at a local level, as the school district was operating within the parameters of CommunityLINK policies.

By law, the district must have a balanced budget said Kinakin. However, he said he felt that the money could have come from somewhere else, which SD20 secretary-treasurer Kim Morris agreed with.

“It could have been found from anywhere in the budget had the board decided to take it from somewhere else,” she said, saying they could have cut another teacher, laid off more childcare workers or not given schools the same amount of supply money, among others. After comparing the board’s projected expenses and revenues, they came up with a deficit of $1.2 million and decided to use some of the CommunityLINK funding to pay for the continuation of two childcare workers.

“It’s about tough choices — if it’s not community schools then it’s going to be something else important like technology teachers, EA’s and those are tough choices we have to make.”

As many as 17 programs, including One to One reading and Roots of Empathy, could be drastically reduced or cut as a result of the funding shift, according to the response sent by the community schools to the board.

CommunityLINK funding supports programs and services to improve the educational performance, including the academic achievement and social functioning of vulnerable students. Some community schools in the area rely solely on the CommunityLINK funding, while others have partnerships with other organizations as well, but in the end it’s still a huge blow.

“We respect that budgets are tight … but it’s such a huge loss of 50 per cent (of our funding),” said Desneiges Profili, community literacy co-ordinator at the Kootenay Columbia Learning Centre in Trail.

“We’ve always worked well with the district, always …  but to pull back that kind of funding I don’t know how we’d be able to maintain those kinds of programs, it just wouldn’t happen. And at the end of the day it’s a loss for the students and their parents.”

The school board will vote on the CommunityLINK budget Monday night at the Trail Middle School.  The meeting starts at 7 p.m., members of the public are welcome to attend.