By Alex Rinfret–Difficult decisions are ahead, school trustees warned at last Tuesday’s meeting (Dec. 14), after hearing that the provincial government is chopping this year’s budget by $150,000 to reflect a lower-than-expected number of students.
The district received word of the budget cut at the end of November, secretary-treasurer Andrea de Bucy said. Trustees made decisions earlier this year about the 2004-05 budget based on an expected enrollment of 809 students, she said. Instead, only 792 enrolled, which translates into $150,000 less from the province.
Ms de Bucy said administrators have told her that it is extremely disruptive to remove teachers and re-organize classrooms in the middle of the school year. However, the board will have to find a way to reduce spending somehow by the end of February, when it is required to submit its final budget, she said.
Trustees have scheduled a meeting with senior managers Jan. 11 to brainstorm solutions.
“We will be considering everything – population projects, enrollment projections,” Ms de Bucy said.
Other northern school districts have seen similar enrollment declines, she said. In talking to managers in some other districts, she learned that they deliberately underestimate enrollment when preparing their budgets so that they aren’t unpleasantly surprised.
Ms de Bucy said she does not expect enrollment to increase in this district in the foreseeable future. There are three main reasons for the declining number of students, she said: lack of employment on the islands, which forces families to move away; parents sending their children to alternate schools or home schooling them; and parents sending their children to school off-island.
In other school board news:
o Andreas Uttendorfer was acclaimed as chair for another year, and Skidegate trustee Wayne Wilson will continue as vice-chair. Port trustee Maggie Bell Brown was also nominated as vice-chair, but Mr. Wilson won the secret ballot election.
o Ms de Bucy reported that the schools in this district have a combined total of approximately $200,000 in their own accounts. The Ministry of Education is now requiring that school districts include these amounts in their financial statements, Ms De Bucy said.
“I now know where the piggy banks are and they are not in the school board office, they are in the individual schools,” she told trustees.
The money held by schools comes from donations and fundraising, she said. It does not include money held by parent groups, who also do a lot of fundraising, but are considered independent entities by the government, she said.
o The BC School Trustees Association has given the district another $2,500 to finish its trustee variation process, Mr. Uttendorfer said. He said there are several steps to be taken before the trustees submit a report to the Ministry of Education, including two more public meetings. The board undertook the trustee variation process at the request of the band councils and the Council of the Haida Nation, which would like to see more Haida trustees on the board.
o The board approved a five-year capital plan, as required by the Ministry of Education. The plan calls for $3.4-million worth of work at Tahayghen elementary school (seismic and mechanical upgrades, reduce capacity and renovation), $1.8-million worth of work at G.M. Dawson secondary (seismic upgrade), $1.6-million at A.L. Mathers (seismic upgrade) and $934,000 at Port Clements (seismic upgrade).
o Haida education director Vonnie Hutchingson told trustees that it looks like the Masters program offered here by Simon Fraser University is going ahead and will use the Port school two weekends a month for classes. She also passed on kudos to the staff and administrators at Queen Charlotte Secondary, saying that the number of discipline problems has declined substantially, and that many more students are on the honour roll.
o The district has applied to the risk management branch of the provincial government and may be eligible for funding to repair the leaky roof at Sk’aadgaa Naay elementary school, Ms de Bucy said. A roofing expert was expected to visit the school and check out the situation, she added.
“Our school out there is only five years old so this does not seem acceptable,” she said.
o Duncan White, president of the Queen Charlotte District Teachers Association, asked whether the school board would be responding to a recent ad by MLA Bill Belsey which claimed that provincial education funding for the islands has increased substantially.
Mr. Uttendorfer said he was not planning to respond. “All I can say is that I’m not sure how much Mr. Belsey is aware of what goes on in the school system,” he said, adding that requesting a meeting with the MLA is “not on the top of my agenda right now, but I won’t rule it out.”
Sandspit trustee Gail Henry said she had raised the issue of education funding with Mr. Belsey during his recent visit to the islands. “I said, you guys are killing us,” Ms Henry said.
o Mr. Uttendorfer said he had noticed a lot of litter on the school grounds lately, and he wanted to mention it even though he knew the comment might annoy some people.
“I don’t know what it takes to cut down on this garbage,” he said. “You name it, it’s out there.”
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