SD72 Trustee Darryl Hagen

Trustees wish they actually had spending choices

'Just tell us how much money we have, because I believe it’s the school trustees’ job to spend that money in a responsible way'

It’s not that they’re ungrateful for the funding they get, they just wish they knew earlier how much it would be and had some choice in how to spend it.

That was the overarching tone of Tuesday’s public meeting of the School District 72 (SD72) Board of Education when discussing a letter they were drafting thanking the government for some much-needed funds.

The district recently received $113,000 for new curriculum implementation strategies, $280,000 towards the replacement of Carihi’s gym floor and, just this week, $316,860 for students’ transportation needs. At Tuesday’s public meeting, the board was drafting a letter thanking the ministry for these and other recent injections of money, but several trustees wanted to balance the letter with some concerns.

Specifically, they wanted the letter – while thanking the ministry for the funding – to reflect their concerns that the board should be allowed to make decisions on how to spend education money in the district, because that’s what they were elected to do.

“This is a tremendous list of money that has come into the district, and we do appreciate that, but we don’t know from one year to the next what we’re going to get,” Kerr said, looking at the draft of the letter. “If we had some kind of understanding about how much we were going to get, it would make the budgeting process – and also the planning process – for our district a lot more, I guess, efficient and effective, instead of having to always be responding and reacting to last-minute initiatives and cuts.”

Trustee Darryl Hagen agreed.

“I appreciate money when it’s given to us,” Hagen said, “it just really would have been nice to know ahead of time before we went about the whole process of closing schools. Here we are getting money for busing after closing schools, but if that money was available, and we’d known about it ahead of time, maybe we would have made drastically different decisions for the children in our district. That’s what we’re elected for: to represent our community.

“Just tell us how much money we have, because I believe it’s the school trustees’ job to spend that money in a responsible way.”

Trustee Richard Franklin took Hagen’s assessment one step further, saying funding school districts in this way is essentially the government’s way of “micromanaging” the school districts.

“What happened here was that a significant amount of money was stripped out of SD72 labelled as ‘administrative savings’ and in order to deal with that, we had to take a number of drastic actions,” Franklin said. “Then, afterwards, the money is doled out in little packages or grants, but in such a way that our autonomy and our ability to make any decisions about how that money is spent – well, it all comes with strings attached.”

Franklin said he couldn’t support a letter thanking the government that didn’t also express these concerns.

“It’s fine to thank the minister for giving us back some of the money he took from us … but I don’t think we can thank him for giving us back the money and telling us exactly how we have to use it, because the whole principle of local school boards is that the people closest to those being affected by the decisions are the best people to make those decisions.

“What we’re looking at here is the centralization of educational governance in Victoria taking away the authority and decision making abilities of local school boards.

“I believe we are closer to the students and the parents and the neighbourhoods here and have a better grasp of what the students in this district need.”

The finalized letter will be presented for approval at the next public meeting, scheduled for Nov. 29 at 7:30 at the SD72 offices on Pinecrest Road.