The school board is meeting Thursday, discussing how to balance its budget for the school year beginning July 1. It has promised not to close any schools this year, but still has to cut $218,000, or $255 per student, from the budget to pay the bills.
The board expects to get about $8.9-million from the Ministry of Education said Secretary Treasurer Len Ibbs during a presentation at Port Clements School April 2. Operating costs are estimated at $9.5-million, leaving the district about half a million dollars short. Because of careful management and some government windfalls, the district has about a quarter million dollars to move forward to next year, but it still has to find $218,000 to stay in the black.
Next year’s grant will be less than last year’s, because enrollment is expected to drop to 854 students from 873 in the 2002/03 year.
Expenses will go up because the school district must find money to pay for a 2.5% salary increase. Victoria agreed to the increase for teachers, principals, and CUPE workers, but will not pay for it. Employee benefits have also gone up this year, as have fuel prices which means a huge jump in busing and heating costs as well. The board has to options- find money or make cuts to balance the budget, said Mr. Ibbs.
If the district decides to lay off employees, 2 full time teachers and 2 full time CUPE workers, or the equivalent, will have to be laid off. However, the district is trying to find money to prevent lay offs. One possibility is a Min. of Education fund called English as a Second Dialect that supports students struggling with Standard English.
In the long term, the district is considering a four-day week, said Mr. Ibbs, but Superintendent Mike Woods recommends the board wait awhile before considering this option. Other districts are trying the four-day week, and Mr. Woods wants to see how it goes for them before trying it here. Mr. Ibbs also said the district wants seek community input about other sources of funding, including corporate sponsorship, for islands schools.
Mr. Ibbs made his presentation as part of a week-long islands tour by district staff and trustees, explaining the school board’s dilemma.
In Port Clements, they heard from several people at the meeting. Teacher and parent Chris Bellamy asked the district to increase elementary sports funding. “If you ask most kids what the best thing is about school, they’ll say sports,” he said. This year the district ran a good extra curricular program on $12,000, said Mr. Bellamy, but it was difficult with so little money.
School PACs could pool their money to create a fund to create a district extracurricular activity fund, suggested teacher’s association representative Duncan White. He estimated the PACs would have $19,000 altogether, and could ask for matching funds from Gwaii Trust to create a fund of $38,000.
The trustees agreed that PAC cooperation could help pay for extra curricular activities, but said that PACs operate independently and would have to make that decision themselves. Board Chair Andreas Uttendorfer also said the Gwaii Trust might not choose to support such a request.
Libraries and school resources desperately need school district funding, said Port Clements principal Elizabeth Condrotte in her presentation to the trustees. “For too long this school district has been islands of education where each school operates as a separate entity,” she said. Increased sharing between islands schools could reduce expenses overall, but that the district would need to make an inventory of resources before this could be practical.
Libraries are suffering from neglect, said Ms Condrotte in the second part of her presentation. Literacy is a major push in the district, and libraries are the heart of any literacy program, but with a limited collection fund, the schools can only afford whatever Scholastic provides. School libraries are locked up for most of the week because no one is available to manage them. School librarians don’t have the time to run library programs because their hours have been cut so much. Mr. Bellamy spoke up to say that the three hours he was given to run the Port Clements library only gave him enough time to shelve the books. The entire audience supported Ms Condrotte’s request for increased library funding. Ritu Marrs, Port Clements teacher, pointed out that 10 years ago the school spent $5000 on books, but last year only $300 could be spared for library books.
Mr. White and Mr. Uttendorfer both said the district might need to redirect money from computers to books, especially in the elementary schools.
Audience members questioned why the district had such high maintenance and administrative costs. The districts plan to hire a director of instruction received little support from those attending the meeting. Mr. Uttendorfer explained that administrative workloads have increase sharply in the last year because of Ministry demands, and the trustees believe another position is necessary if the district is to run with any effectiveness at all. After Mr. Ibbs and Mr. Woods described the demands made on their time, Mr. Bellamy said he understood they worked hard, but that budget cuts meant the same thing was true for teachers who also have to work harder to meet more demands.
“Our district has fewer students than a Vancouver school,” Ms Condrotte said near the end of the meeting. “We need to cooperate more to share resources.”
The board will present its budget to the public at its next public meeting, April 22 in Queen Charlotte.
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