Draft schools budget funds district psychologist, counsellors

Besides changes for next school year, the Haida Gwaii school board will host a meeting on merging the Masset schools.

With a draft budget in hand, the Haida Gwaii school board is picking priorities.

Highlights from the $10.6-million draft budget for next school year include a new school district psychologist and a south-end counsellor, seed funding for fine arts programs, one-on-one tutoring and more support for after-school homework clubs.

But the district has several more priorities to think about in the longer term everything from more cost-effective bussing to a north-end daycare, potential for a summer school focused on Haida culture and outdoor education, plus the possible merger of Tahayghen Elementary with Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay Secondary.

On that last point, the potential schools merger, the district will host a public meeting on Thursday, May 18 at Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay.

Masset’s elementary and high school were originally built for 450 and 350 students respectively, but Tahayghen is expected to have under 60 students by 2025, and the high school fewer than 50.

“I think it’s an important conversation to have,” said Secretary Treasurer Shelley Sansome, speaking about their possible merger into a shared school for kindergarten to Grade 12.

“We do anticipate a lot of feedback, a lot of dialogue.”

Trustees have already heard plenty of feedback in the last few weeks to prepare the 2017-18 school budget, the district held a dozen public meetings and posted an online survey asking what parents and staff want to add, and what they would cut if need be.

Among the top priorities raised at the meetings were calls for more outdoor education and counselling programs, Haida language and French immersion, improved bussing, arts and local food programs, and more professional development opportunities for teachers.

As for cost-cutting, several people suggested finding ways to reduce the district’s $500,000 bussing budget, which is among the highest in B.C. something Superintendent Dawna Johnson-Day hopes to do this summer.

Others suggested selling the district’s remaining homes for teachers or the board office in Queen Charlotte, but Sansome noted that money from those sales would go to the province, not the district, which would only make slight savings on upkeep.

As for cutting administration, Sansome said that since 2005, the district has already done all it can to reduce overhead.

“We would need to consider other options,” she said, such as contracting out, or joining another school district ideas that have proved unfeasible so far.

“I don’t think anyone at the board office could take on any more work.”

Based on current enrolment, the district will likely have between $90,200 and $220,000 less operating funds than last year about a one to two per cent drop.

Two and a half full-time teaching positions will be cut through attrition, meaning those teachers are voluntarily stepping down to part-time, taking a leave of absence, or retiring.

At the moment, Haida Gwaii will likely have 520 or fewer students next year, with 43.5 full-time teachers and education assistants.

A final budget will be voted in by school trustees at the regular board meeting in May.