Oceanside trustees throw support behind Cowichan board

School District 69 trustees say all boards are having a tough time balancing budgets

School District 69 (Qualicum) board chair Lynette Kershaw attended a rally last week to support school trustees in Cowichan who face being fired by the provincial government for submitting a restoration budget.

When School District 69 (Qualicum) has its regular board meeting tonight the subject of budget woes will once again be on the agenda.

Two members of the local board attended a rally June 20 in support of Cowichan School District trustees who recently passed a restoration budget rather than make the cuts required to balance their budget.

On May 16 the majority of trustees voted to restore programs and services, the only school board in the province that didn’t submit a balanced budget.

In doing so they face being fired by Education Minister George Abbott.

District 69 trustee Julie Austin who joined the well attended  rally at the Cowichan school board office is recommending that her board write a letter to the Minister of Education and the Premier in support of the Cowichan School Board and their submission to the Ministry of Education of a restoration budget.

It is a re-introduction of a similar motion that Austin presented to the board on April 24.

That motion was defeated in part because some members thought it was premature, as the Cowichan district had not passed all three readings of their restoration budget.

Austin pointed out that school boards for many years have struggled with balancing budgets during times of continuous cutbacks from the province in funding.

She said though their school district has weathered the many storms, it continues to be at a cost to their students.

According to the School Act boards of education are required to submit annual balanced budgets.  School boards that do not comply can and have been dismissed and replaced by a B.C. government appointed administrator.

The act also requires school boards to be responsible for the improvements of student achievement in the school district and that has board chair Lynette Kershaw perplexed.

Kershaw who also made the trip to Cowichan last week said she believes minister Abbott will fire the Cowichan trustees despite being elected in a democratic process.

“The biggest thing I came away with from the rally, is they didn’t come up with restoration budget on their own.  When they campaigned they listened to their constituents and followed what the constituents were demanding.  They are standing up for children’s education and now they are going to be fired for it,” she said.

Kershaw said the government’s mandate of putting forward a balanced budget would have resulted in the trustees forgoing their election promise and she will be asking the board to write a letter to the minister of education and the premier in support of the Cowichan trustees.

Deb Morran of the Mount Arrowsmith Teachers Association (MATA) who also attended the rally said it was interesting to see the level of support for Cowichan trustees in the community.

“There were other unions at the rally in addition to teachers and Cupe.  There were also moms, dads and kids and it was great to see,” she agreed.

She said at the Cowichan board meeting it was interesting to see how the debate ensued regarding the consequences of the restoration budget.

“They are worried and concerned they will be fired,” she said and added they discussed the fact that it could be their last board meeting.

“They see it as not the end…but a building block that has brought the issue to the publics eye.  They are not considering it a failure at all,” exclaimed Morran.

In fact Morran said they talked about needing to set a process in place so that when they are fired, all information will be divulged to the public.

“They want to know if democratically elected representatives are fired…who will be coming in to replace them and how much are they being paid.  It needs to be public.  They are resigned to the fact it was their last board meeting.”

The Cowichan trustees were looking into getting a legal opinion on whether they can be dismissed by the government.

In the meantime Morran said they are planning a year end rally June 30, the deadline to have a balanced budget submitted and they have invited the community to it.

“It will be a celebration of what they stood up for and the platform they were elected on.”



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