The school district has what it calls a ‘funding dilemma’ for next year, and is under “tremendous financial pressure” meaning it needs to cut about $650,000 from its budget, most which likely will be borne by staff, including teachers.
“We are in a bit of a financial difficulty, and we are here for ideas,” school district assistant secretary treasurer Carman Lynch told those attending the first budget consultation meeting in Sandspit Monday night.
Mr. Lynch said enrolment has been dropping drastically in the district, and is down about 14-percent in the last four years. Since provincial funding is based on the number of students in school, it has been dropping as well, although the province has been kicking in some extra.
“Despite what the New Democrats will tell you the government has been providing some funding relief,” Mr. Lynch said.
At the moment, the district has enough teachers for 870 students, but only 810 are expected to be in schools next year.
That translates into funding of about $8.75 million for next year, down from $9.4-million this year.
Mr. Lynch noted there is one teacher for every 12.2 students on the islands, while in the province there’s one teacher for 18 students.
“As you can see, the classes are very small in this district and we are well below the provincial average,” he said.
Neither he nor the board was willing to share their thoughts about how to make the cuts, but the presentation to the public in Sandspit did not touch on closing schools, but focused on the teacher/student ratio and the cost of staff. “It won’t come as any surprise that we spend most of our money on salary and benefits,” Mr. Lynch said. He also said there is no plan how to make the cuts at the moment, but one will be presented to islanders following the consultations which wrap up today (Thursday) n Masset. “We have thoughts but I am not free to share them with you,” Mr. Lynch said.
And he did rule out closing schools as a solution.
“There are no school closures on the horizon. There is no plan to close AL Mathers or to amalgamate Tahayghen and GM Dawson. As far as I know there is no plan,” Mr. Lynch said.
Following the presentation, the floor was opened to those attending, who offered their thoughts and ideas. Crystal Sheridan told the board that losing the high school in Sandspit would be detrimental to the community, and said, “we want our school to remain as it is today.”
Audrey Putterill noted that the board’s resource package was printed only on one side and said while that seems like a small thing, savings could be made by paying attention to such small things, while Dennis Baran pointed out how important the electronic school associated with AL Mathers is to many, many students.
Trustee Margaret Edgars said she wanted to hear from the students, some of whom were present, and Ian Benoit told the board that students there want the high school to stay. “We heard there are no plans to close it and we are really happy to hear that,” he said.
The school board continued to hold public budget meetings in Queen Charlotte, Port Clements and Masset Tuesday through Thursday. It will present its budget at the board meeting April 27, and must submit a final, balanced budget to Victoria by the end of May.
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