Community Comment: Budget concerns at forefront for school trustees

"Unfortunately our district is not growing but rather we have fewer students in our system."

The cornerstone of education is continuous development. We are now in a stable labor situation. The current BCTF contract runs until June 20 of 2019.  Yes we should have labor peace for the next four years leaving behind us the ugly scene of labor unrest that we all experienced last year. Our teachers and students are hard at work – working towards their future goals and the future looks good as we offer an excellent educational system.

Unfortunately our district is not growing but rather we have fewer students in our system. In the past, funding dollars were formulated based on school sites – but – this was changed and we receive our funding based on the number of students that we have. We have a great concern that the present provincial budget will lead to even more funding cutbacks for the public education system. We anticipate further reductions due to insufficient funding for teacher increments and other benefit increases negotiated in the previous contract settlement.

Christy Clarke’s government is increasing educational spending by $110 million – a boost of nearly two per cent. Unfortunately it is in the fine print in the budget that has left school trustees and administrators feeling like they have been played for chumps. It was a ministry order for the province’s 60 districts to find $29 million in “administrative efficiencies” – also known as budget cuts – this year and an additional $25 million in “efficiencies” next year. Keep in mind the cuts are cumulative and ongoing. So that’s $29 million this year and a total of $54 million next year.

Our district is presently working on our budget – information re the Budget can be obtained from our SD20 website. Recently on EZ FM chair Daryl Ganzert stated that we are facing a $600,000 plus deficit. So you can see balancing the budget – which is provincial mandate – is not going to be easy for our district. In our budget 89 per cent of the district budget goes toward salaries and benefits.

He also went on to say that fewer students’ means the district may be forced to lay-off staff and students could see larger classes for 2015/16. He is hoping that attrition will stave off any potential layoffs. Also from last week’s Trail Times’ article on the budget – the chair went to state that it is very distressing for us to be cutting year after year. That it has left our buildings in a state that is not good – as trustees we understand declining enrolment and we try to put the best face we can on it, but we are angry.

On our SD20 website you can visit and become familiar with our budget. The home page has all the information you would need – go to Budget Updates – when you open this link “2015/16 Budget Update” you will get an overview of our budget process. We have published a link to a long list of potential cuts to balance our budget. You will also see our budget schedule – when our meetings’ are held and who the meetings are open to. You will also be able to click on the link SD20 budget and this will take you to a survey. In this survey you will be asked for your opinions and input. Please take this survey and we will add these results to our discussions.

Finally – there is a rumor concerning the potential sale of Blueberry Creek School which has been closed as an enrolling school since 2002.  Concerns have been expressed as to why this is still on the books of SD20 where all other schools that have been closed have been sold for good money that the SD20 can use.

The board met one time – Oct 20 2014 – with concerned citizens re: the sale of this district asset. At this one meeting the board heard from the concerned – and yes a very large percentage of the public in attendance thought the board should dispose of the building and site to the Blueberry Creek Community School Council for $1.  We all understand assessed values – presently under BC assessment the assessed value for this facility with just less than four acres of flat land in a residential area is $1,378,000.

As a trustee who stands for equity within the whole district – this potential scenario is wrong. It would be unfair for us to sell this school and property for $1. It would be a detriment to the whole district – we must base our decisions on EQUITY within the whole district and must realize that we are in DEFICIT position and to give away a valuable ASSET at this time is wrong.  As this is a current situation you should check with your trustees and find out their positions on this issue.

Mark Wilson is a school trustee from Trail.

Community Comment is an opportunity for elected officials from our local municipalities to update citizens in the region on the events, plans and progress in their respective communities. Every Friday, the Trail Times will present, on a rotating basis, a submission from councils, school trustees or regional district directors.