Qualicum school board nine teachers short for next year

Yet-to-be-approved budget asking for $.96 M in extra funding

School District 69 administration presented its proposed budget to trustees at a special budget meeting on Tuesday, May 16, and, this year, it asks that trustees have a little bit of faith.

That’s because administration is hoping to include 9.1 teaching positions for which the district doesn’t have the funds.

“This is an odd year for us,” said Ron Amos, the district’s secretary-treasurer, in his report to the board.

That’s due to the Supreme Court decision last year that required the B.C. government to restore teachers’ union language around classroom sizes and composition.

Though the expectation was that the decision would mean more teachers and fewer students per classroom, SD69 expressed concerns that the opposite might be true here, where new funding meant to pay for that restored language was lower than expected.

The district has since sent the Ministry of Education a request/justification for more funds. Specifically, it is requesting an additional $956,313.

That is the amount required to fund 9.1 non-enrolling teacher positions. Those are teachers who aren’t connected to a specific class of students, but provide other programming. They include librarians, learning assistants and other specialist teachers.

The proposed budget plan shows the district could pay for 2.5 positions by dipping into its surplus for $280,958, leaving 6.6 positions worth $675,355 yet to be funded.

But there is no guarantee that the ministry will provide that extra funding, and no hard-and-fast date for when a decision on extra funding will come, Amos told the board.

Amos said there is a bit of faith involved in going ahead with this budget. But, he added, “early indication is some districts will be handing money back,” because, just as SD69 wasn’t given enough new funding, others were given too much. So, conceivably, the ministry would be able to redistribute the funds to districts that need it.

“Your other option is to wait until June to pass the budget,” said Amos.

Trustee Julie Austin sounded out the board’s appetite for waiting until June, with the budget due June 30. The hope is that a definitive answer on extra funding would be in by then, said board chair Even Flynn.

If funding does not come forward, cuts would have to be made, though they couldn’t be restricted to teaching staff, said Assistant Superintendent Gillian Wilson. Even if the board were to approve the budget and no extra funding was received, administration would come back to the board with options on what cuts could be made where, said Wilson. Austin was interested in staff coming back with multiple other budget proposals that account for a lack of funding, though trustee Elaine Young said that might not be politically prudent, as the ministry might then question the district’s need for additional funds.

“This is a pretty great budget,” said Superintendent Rollie Koop, saying that it reflects the board’s and other stakeholders’ wants, while addressing what the district needs.

Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association president Norberta Heinrichs said she applauds the work of the district in working to restore collective agreement language. However, she expressed concern that there was no line item on the budget for school-based team resources.

School-based teams are part of the collective agreement language locally, she said, and allow for schools to decide what is needed for their students and classrooms, rather than adhering to a formula for funding based on student ratios.

Amos assured Heinrichs that there was a funding buffer that school-based teams could make use of. Koop added that his letter to the ministry asking for more funds specifically addressed the school-based team language. A motion on the budget will be presented at the school board’s next meeting on Tuesday, May 23.