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Bargain provincially, fund locally

School District 72, along with the other school districts across the province, is being asked to find savings in its budget to pay for salary increases for support staff in schools from kindergarten to Grade 12.

And that’s not sitting well with the Board of Education.

“We find it increasingly frustrating that we are being asked to bargain provincially, and yet locally fund any settlements,” wrote Michele Babchuk, chair of the SD72 board in a letter to Education Minister Don McRae, on behalf of the board of education. “We will find it very difficult and unreasonable to provide a savings plan that will not impact students today or in the future.”

McRae is asking the board to come up with a 1.5 per cent savings, and it must not have a negative impact on educational programs. He said he’s asked the board to look into their district operations to find savings of that amount by next month.

Babchuk said the board has “grave concerns in the expectation that Boards of Education and School Districts find such significant savings without effect to programs and services.

“Of significant concern is the government’s apparent belief that we have the ability to free up funding from existing budgets to provide for compensation increases without negatively impacting the delivery of educational programming for students, transfer costs or reducing service levels to the public,” Babchuk wrote to McRae.

Babchuk goes on to explain that School District 72 has already had to cut more than $3 million over the last five years, with significant reductions and changes to programs and services, in order to create a balanced budget. The last two years have seen the board make cuts of more than $1 million.

This year it does not appear the situation will be much better, as the district is facing a reduction in funding from the province of $576,385; possible loss of Education Plan funding of $105,160; a teacher pension plan increase of $330,00; a Workers Compensation Board and BC Hydro increase of $60,142, for a total budget implication of $1.1 million before adding the 1.5 per cent savings expected by McRae.

“Any efficiency identified for our savings plan will ultimately impact services and will negatively affect our 2013/2014 budget,” Babchuk said. “With a half year already completed, finding 1.5 per cent savings within the next six months will prove to be extremely difficult.”

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