Cautious optimism, also concern over education funding

  • Mar. 10, 2010 2:00 p.m.

Haida Gwaii school district secretary-treasurer Ken Campbell was cautiously optimistic about last week’s provincial budget, but said he’s waiting to hear further details March 15. That’s when the Ministry of Education will let school districts know how the money will be divided up. But in general, it looks like the province is restoring the annual facilities grant that it cut last year, which covers maintenance work on school buildings. “I’m really pleased that it appears that we’re going to get our annual facility grant back,” Mr. Campbell said. “It allows us to move ahead.” The demolition of the old Port Clements elementary school has been stalled since the grant was cut last year, he said, and that project will likely go ahead if the funding is restored. But he also warned there’s no guarantee that the kind of funding protection the government has given to districts with dropping enrollment will continue. In previous years, the government ensured that no district received less money even if it lost a significant number of students, he said. “We understand that the funding protection they had in previous years… is under review, ” he said. Evelyn von Almassy, president of the Haida Gwaii Teachers Association, echoed Mr. Campbell’s comment that we will need to wait until March 15 before finding out exactly how schools on the islands will be affected. As for the facilities grant, Ms von Almassy said it’s being restored to only half its previous level this year, with the other half coming next year, which she said is inadequate. “The government also says things in March and then they often take them back between July and December,” she said. “This fall they took away the annual facilities grant funding and 50 percent of funding to the Parent Advisory Councils. No notice, nothing, just less money.” Ms von Almassy said she would like to see the local school district tell the government how much money it needs to provide public education on the islands, rather than trying to figure out how to make do with the amount provided. The teachers’ union believes the district must cut administration expenses – things like running the board office and trustee expenses – before it cuts any teaching jobs, she added. “I know that teachers have given some concrete suggestions to the school board,” she said. “For example, a 20 percent cut was suggested for the board office, as was a 20 percent cut to trustee expenses. When services to students are cut, for example the cost of bottled water for board meetings needs to be cut… We have suggested video conferencing instead of expensive travel both on and off the islands for the trustees. We all have to think smarter in order for the funding to be focused on students.”