Doing more with less is unsustainable

SD72 must find $1 million to balance budget due to costs imposed by province

School districts around the province are becoming more and more frustrated with being asked to do more with less, and at this week’s public meeting of the School District 72 (SD72) Board of Education, trustees agreed on the wording they would use to express their displeasure surrounding this issue.

According to the letter being sent to Premier Christy Clark, Minister of Finance Michael de Jong and others, SD72 is being forced to make unplanned cuts of over $1 million just this year thanks to a combination of factors imposed by the province, for which the district has received no financial compensation.

“I am writing to express our concern with the constant downloading of education costs to our district,” reads the letter. “In the last provincial budget, our board was stripped of more than $295,000 in ‘administrative savings.’ Last month School District 72 was burdened with the $155,000 cost of buying the technology required to access the provincially mandated New Generation Network.”

The letter gives other examples of demands imposed on the district without compensation from the government, as well, including, “your government’s recognition of the need to begin to compensate our administrators fairly in view of the provincially imposed six and a half year wage ‘freeze’ but its failure to fund this increase has resulted in an unanticipated $139,570 in additional costs.”

With a structural deficit of between $600,000 and $900,000, the district, “is once again being forced to make hard choices about which services we will have to curtail in order to submit a balanced budget,” according to the board’s letter.

And submit a balanced budget they must.

“We have to, by law, deliver a balanced budget every year,” said Trustee Richard Franklin after the reading of the letter, expressing his personal frustrations with the government. “This year we’re going to have to find another million dollars – over a million dollars – to balance that budget.

“You could say we would be brave to just say no. But the consequence of that is what we saw in the Cowichan School District. When the board says no, the government simply fires the board, brings in a public administrator, that person just comes in and makes the cuts with no accountability to the local taxpayer,” Franklin said, referencing the firing of the Cowichan Valley School Board’s trustees in July of 2012 after they passed a deficit budget. The Cowichan board was replaced by Surrey School District superintendent Mike MacKay, who then served as the district’s sole trustee until 2014.

Franklin continued, expressing what the rest of those around the table clearly felt, as well.

“It’s so irresponsible for the government to continue to grant increased costs to school districts but then tell us we have to find it inside the budget we’ve been given. We’re being placed in a very, very difficult position.

“We know that the cuts we’re making are going to have an impact on schools, on kids, and the quality of education we can deliver. When you look at the history of cuts in British Columbia that have been made by the provincial government, it puts the districts in such a hard position that, yes, we’ve got nothing left, sometimes, but to consider closing schools and shutting down programs.

“It’s difficult and disheartening to someone like myself,” he said, fighting the tears that were welling up, and choking up somewhat getting the words out, “who has devoted his entire working life to education.”

The letter concludes with a “request” that the Ministry of Education, “fully fund the additional costs that have been incurred as a result of decisions that have been made at the provincial level,” adding, “it is time for our government to make public education the priority it must be if our province is to have a vibrant and sustainable economy in the future.”

The letter can be read in its entirety under “District News” on the SD72 website,