Cuts coming at school district

  • Apr. 7, 2010 6:00 a.m.

The Haida Gwaii school district plans to deal with a $430,000 shortfall in the coming year by cutting two teachers and three support staff, phasing out the district resource centre, and reducing the budgets for outdoor education and provincial sports travel. Secretary-treasurer Ken Campbell presented the draft 2010-11 budget at public meetings in Masset and Port Clements this week, saying that the district faces significant challenges this year after several years with barely any staff cuts. Although the islands have lost about 80 students over the past four years, the number of support staff working here has not changed, and the number of teaching positions has declined by only 0.6, Mr. Campbell said. Consequently, classes have become smaller: the student-teacher ratio this year is about 14:1, compared to 15.7:1 four years ago. That trend is going to have to change. Although the district expects to receive slightly more money this year from the Ministry of Education, the extra dollars won’t be enough to cover already-negotiated salary increases and other costs like rising utility bills, Mr. Campbell said, resulting in the $430,000 shortfall. Mr. Campbell said meetings between principals, senior staff and trustees have produced several suggestions for savings. The board is proposing to cut two teaching positions (saving an estimated $185,000) and three special education assistants (saving $93,000), reduce its leadership, provincial sports travel and outdoor education budgets (saving $33,000), and eliminate a part-time groundskeeping position ($27,000). The district also expects to save almost $40,000 through a reallocation of administration positions in Sandspit and Port following the retirement of a vice-principal. It also plans to phase out the district resource centre over the next two years, saving $19,000 this year by keeping the centre open but not buying any new materials. The rest of the savings come from trimming staff and trustee travel, canceling a vehicle lease and cutting the administration supply budget. These cuts would achieve the required $430,000 savings, Mr. Campbell said, but they are not set in stone. Trustees now want to hear what the public thinks about them. The final 2010-11 budget won’t be adopted until the end of June. About 20 people attended the budget presentation Tuesday night at G.M. Dawson Secondary, most of them teachers and support staff. Some teachers raised concerns about the proposed phase-out of the district resource centre, now based at Masset’s Tahayghen elementary. Evelyn von Almassy, head of the Haida Gwaii Teachers’ Association, said outdoor education programs are extremely important and she wanted to see them maintained. “My plea, I would be begging you not to cut the outdoor education,” she said. “For some students, it changes their lives.” Ms von Almassy told the board that a decade ago, she offered to donate one of her kidneys if it would save the district resource centre (the trustees at the time decided to keep the centre open, and Ms von Almassy kept her kidney). “I am not going to do that for outdoor education because I’m getting older,” she said. “But that’s one thing I really beg to stay.” Superintendent Angus Wilson said he agreed that the Haida Gwaii district does have special and unique outdoor education programs. The board is proposing to reduce only one program, the annual Mount Moresby adventure camps for grades 4, 8 and 12 students. Mr. Wilson said trustees looked at district programs like leadership, travel to sports tournaments and Mount Moresby and decided that they are all important, so they should cut some money from the budget of each rather than completely chopping one. “The effort here was to try to share the pain,” he said. “We have to look at all our options.” The district will be making two more budget presentations, April 14 and 15 in Sandspit and Queen Charlotte.