Qualicum school board wants province to loosen purse strings

Both the teachers' union and trustees’ association back the recommendations

School District 69’s Board of Trustees has sent a letter to the Minister of Education Mike Bernier last week calling for reforms to the government’s funding model for K-12 public education.

And a select standing committee, providing consultation to the provincial government as it drafts its 2016 budget, seems to concur.

The school board’s letter, dated Nov. 17 and signed by board chair Eve Flynn, supports recommendations by the B.C. School Trustees’ Association (BCSTA) and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) submitted to the Select Standing Committee on Financial and Government Services.

“Previous reports of this Select Standing Committee have stated that the public education system in British Columbia is suffering from a funding model that doesn’t work well and leads to short-term planning and reacting to crisis after crisis,” the SD69 letter says. “We certainly see this in School District 69.”

The current select standing committee, chaired by Liberal MLA Scott Hamilton (Delta North) issued its own report Nov. 13 with 69 recommendations — many of them addressing education funding — that government should consider as it prepares its 2016 budget.

“The recommendations presented to the committee from organizations and individuals across the province suggest current funding levels and assistance are inadequate, which is causing significant operational and program delivery problems in schools throughout B.C.,” the report stated in its conclusions on K-12 education.

Among its three recommendations to the government, the committee is calling for a review of the Ministry of Education funding formula for programs and services, as well as administrative pay, to ensure “adequate and competitive compensation.”

“By properly investing in this sector, the committee suggests that economic and community goals have a better chance of being realized.”

Of all the sectors of government funding addressed by the select standing committee, K-12 education funding drew the greatest number of recommendations from individuals and organizations who made submissions (18 per cent). It was followed by advanced education (16 per cent), fiscal policy (15 per cent) and health

(12 per cent).

Further, an online survey containing questions from the committee’s budget consultation paper asked respondents, if they had one new dollar in funding to share across programs and services, how would they divide it. K-12 education received 22 cents of that dollar, a mark matched only by health care and twice as much as the next-highest priorites, environmental protection and social services.

The BCTF told the committee in its submission that funding has failed to keep pace with the cost of operating schools, at the same time the number of special-needs students in classrooms has ballooned.

“We’re finding we don’t have enough resources, whether it’s service support teachers, counselling or any of these specialists,” said Norberta Heinrichs, president of the Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association (MATA). “It’s not even scratching the surface because the needs are so high.”

The impacts addressed by both the SD69 board and the select standing committee extend across the spectrum of education funding, including administrative cutbacks and the separate capital projects budget, said Flynn, the SD69 board chair.

“It’s chronic and systemic, and it’s plagued us for more than 10 years,” said Flynn. “We asked the previous finance minister, Peter Fassbender, to look ahead to more creative models. For us, that would be spending money on things like sustainability and green initiatives, that we know we could recoup in future years. When you have to stick to a straight money-in, money-out budget, you’re limited.” The SD69 board in its letter submitted a series of recommendations, including:

• School boards should have the flexibility and responsibility to budget over a five-year term;

• Capital projects be selected at the district level based on the greatest return on investment, efficiency gains and reduction of the district’s carbon footprint, and that carbon tax credit funds be directed to this capital budget to offset the costs.

• That the ministry “rethink” its distribution model for capital projects to ensure maximizing the use of capital improvements for long-term efficiencies; and

• That mechanisms be put in place that allow districts to respond more directly to local needs and issues.

“There needs to be a different model altogether,” said Heinrichs. “This isn’t working, and we’re feeling it every day. It’s how many fingers can you put in the dike, and we’re running out of fingers and toes.”

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