Filed for publication with the Mirror
SD72 Board of education,
It is shocking and alarming to see that the school district, which states its mission to be “Students who are literate, numerate, and socially responsible,” is cutting nearly a quarter million dollars out of literacy programs this year to balance the budget.
While teachers’ wages and benefits have increased by $10 million in just two years, students in the classrooms continue to bear the brunt of the district’s inability to manage money.
Priority One in the 2019-2023 Strategic Plan is about literacy. There, the plan makes a commitment to “a 25 per cent increase in students fully meeting or exceeding expectations in literacy at the end of five years.” Gutting the program before it’s finished makes that impossible and makes it impossible to gauge if the program was a success. I was shocked to hear the school trustees and the secretary treasurer unanimously support these changes at the public meeting this week, especially since the secretary-treasurer could provide no metrics to show if any of the deliverables of the literacy program were ever met. “We think it was successful” was about the best anyone could offer at the public meeting.
Before the literacy program is gutted and staff laid off, perhaps it would be a good idea to look at the actual numbers from the program and present them to the elected trustees in an open public meeting.
The cuts to literacy appear to only be the tip of the iceberg with this budget. It was concerning to hear the secretary-treasurer and the board in the open meeting congratulating themselves for not having to make any teacher-related cuts, while at the same time firing the staff who support teachers in the district’s stated number one priority of literacy and numeracy.
It was also yet another kick in the guts to see money that was earmarked for student field trips cancelled during the pandemic, following policies which persisted long after almost every other jurisdiction in the world had relaxed COVID protocols, go to cover the ever-creeping cost of teacher wages and benefits, which make up 92 per cent of all the costs for the entire school district.
How did salaries and benefits increase from $48.8 million in the 2018-2019 school year to nearly $58 million this year? Why has there been a $10 million increase in salaries and benefits over only two years? Why did no one at the board of education bring this up in the public meeting, and why did the secretary-treasurer neglect to point this out?
I have no confidence in this school board of education or the district staff to put students’ needs first. Clearly, with teacher concerns making up more than 92 per cent of the budget every year, and with the board stacked with ex-union reps and teachers’ union-friendly associates, union concerns are what matter most here, not the “kids in the classrooms” as the trustees like to state as a mantra after every public comment.
With an election year coming up, this board needs to take another long, hard look at this budget and explain to the public how cutting literacy programs off at the knees benefits “kids in the classrooms.”
In the budget there is an undisclosed amount of money being withheld for the “Healthy Schools Framework,” including a full-time co-ordinator position. The framework, which is supposed to launch this week, was not available for the board to preview before approving it as part of the budget. Given that this is of one of the Strategic Priorities, it was alarming to see how little the board actually knows about it, what it will cost, or what is even in the framework.
Furthermore, the framework is largely based on the BC Adolescent Survey, done every five years by the province. The last data collected for this survey was in 2018. It is utterly foolish for the district to launch or fund any new programs for youth mental health based on pre-pandemic data points. Our kids’ world changed in the last three years, and we need to acknowledge that. The Healthy Schools Framework is already out of date before it even launches this week and should be scrapped and started over once the new survey data comes out in 2023.
Finally, the public engagement process for this budget has been obfuscated and arcane. Almost no one even knows there is a public comment period and that the clock started ticking on Tuesday night. Shame on the board and the district for trying to hide their decisions in the dark.