In Response to the May 25 Letter to the Editor: “Please explain how cutting literacy programs off at the knees benefits ‘kids in the classrooms’” (Campbell River Mirror, May 24, 2022)
A recent letter to the editor published on May 25 contained some incorrect information and accusations that my fellow trustees and I would like to correct about the School District 72 2022-2023 budget development process.
School District 72 has had a challenging budget development process as we faced a $2.1 million deficit for the 2022-2023 school year. And this is on the heels of this year’s budget which included a $3.1 million deficit.
Our board, like many throughout the province, has been struggling with deficits due to pandemic-related costs, inflation, and other unfunded cost pressures. The only way for districts to outpace inflation is through enrolment growth (more students moving to the community) as the per pupil funding amount has stayed the same. This puts boards in a very difficult position as they are legally required to deliver a balanced budget.
Due to prudent fiscal management by this board and previous boards, the district has been able to avoid budget cuts for several years now by offsetting deficits with annual draws on surplus. Unfortunately, cost increases have outpaced the district’s surplus and there is simply not enough surplus left to continue that practice.
It is never easy to consider budget cuts as every part of our system ultimately impacts student learning and their school experiences. We directed senior management to keep reductions as far away from the classroom as possible and to continue to support the values of the strategic plan, but that doesn’t mean that we can completely avoid any impact.
It is correct that wages and benefits have increased and that these account for 92 per cent of the district’s costs, and with that much of our budget earmarked for wages and benefits by contract, there isn’t a lot left for discretion. However, wages have not increased by $10 million as claimed.
Since 2018-2019, teacher wages have increased by $3.2 million with most of that increase being due to a negotiated annual wage increase of two per cent and the board’s addition of several new positions, including middle school counsellors and indigenous education supports. Teacher and support staff wages are provincially negotiated contracts and increases are provincially funded.
The number one priority of the district’s strategic plan is to improve student achievement and student literacy. This remains something that we are deeply committed to and the assertion that the literacy program has been “gutted” is, frankly, incorrect.
When considering the budget recommendations that impact the literacy program, there is a total net reduction of approximately $100,000 and this is a small fraction of the $400,000 in additional funding that was provided by the board to enhance literacy two years ago and the other district resources committed to supporting literacy every day.
The district had three literacy coordinators; we will be cutting two of these positions and keeping one literacy coordinator position. The budget recommendations also include just under $200,000 to continue to enhance literacy programs within the schools. These funds could be used towards programs, additional supports, or staffing, but the use will be determined in partnership with our literacy working group.
We have also kept literacy leads at three of our schools that were identified to have the greatest need – Cedar, Pinecrest and Penfield. We are having to become more targeted with the funding available to us, but this doesn’t mean that literacy is no longer being supported as a priority.
Field trips have not been cut, and schools will still be able to take the learning opportunities that they provide. Since COVID prevented schools from taking field trips over the past two years, these funds have remained unspent for many schools. Rather than giving another annual allotment to all schools we will be looking to schools to use funds still available from last year.
It was also stated that the Healthy Schools Framework was not made available to the board prior to budget considerations and yet it was presented at the May 3 public board meeting and a copy has been posted to the district website on our reports and publications page.
The Board of Education is committed to having a mental health and wellness framework developed in response to the ever-increasing reported rates of mental health conditions in students. Coming out of the pandemic, these rates are only likely to continue to increase, which is why the mental health framework continues to be important work that cannot wait.
The components of this framework are to identify key content and curricular areas where mental health can be a focus, to build capacity within our staff, to work to reduce stigma in our schools regarding mental health conditions, and to further build partnerships with community agencies.
There will be an operational plan that will accompany the framework that will identify goals, targets and timelines and this plan will be reviewed annually to respond to developing concerns. This plan is still being formulated and will be the work of the mental health coordinator. There are outside grant and funding opportunities available for mental health initiatives and the district will access these as much as possible.
The Board of Education believes in transparency and welcomes anyone interested in district operations to regularly attend the board’s public meetings either in person or by livestream through the link posted on the district’s website.
Recordings of the meetings are also available through the district’s YouTube channel and a written synopsis of the board meetings are shared on the district’s Facebook and Twitter page.
We welcome all opportunities to provide more information on our budget process and hope that this information helps to clear up some possible misperceptions.
Chairperson School District 72 Board of Education