Qualicum school trustee says education system ‘under attack’

Local school district has been asked to find a $1 million in savings; plus other school board news

School District 69 will write a letter asking the provincial government to “reconsider” the requirement for boards of education to find $83 million in savings over the next two years.

The decision follows a recommendation made by Trustee Julie Austin at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“This year’s budget is just one more example of blatant attacks on our public education system,” she said.

Originally, Austin’s recommendation listed the proposed cuts as $54 million. However, this was revised after secretary treasurer Phil Turin said he read the provincial budget to mean that boards of education were to reduce spending by $29 million in 2105/16, followed by $29 million plus and additional $25 million in 2016/17, making $83 million in total.

The District’s letter will also ask that any savings the boards do achieve be retained by the school district. Currently, these funds “are to be absorbed back into the provincial coffers,” said Austin.

The board voted to “widely” distribute copies of the letter to several branches of the provincial government, including members of the opposition and local MLAs. Representatives from the Mount Arrowsmith Teachers’ Association and District Parents Advisory Council also expressed their concern about the proposed provincial budget at Tuesday’s meeting.

Kelly Wray of DPAC suggested all of the District’s education partners sign the board’s proposed letter, but Chair Eve Flynn suggested that a separate correspondence from each organization might hold more weight.

The provincial budget did see an increase of $564 million in funding for K-12 education over the next three years.

“The budget certainly has increased funding, but only to help cover the negotiated settlement with the teachers last fall,” said Austin. “It does not address the four per cent increase in MSP premiums. It does not address another round of BC Hydro increases. It does not address inflation.”

In other news from Tuesday’s school board meeting:

• The school board revealed the first draft of its 2015/16 budget at Tuesday’s meeting, which includes a $938,492 shortfall. Turin said the draft is based on last year’s revenues as the board is not yet certain how they’ll be affected by the provincial budget. “Until I see the document (provincial budget), it’s all speculation on what’s going to happen,” he said. “Who knows how many drafts we’ll have to go through.”

• The District will move forward with its proposed STREAM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering and Making) and elementary-level outdoor education programs as they received “enough parent interest,” said assistant superintendent Gillian Wilson.

The District will now look to staffing these programs, as well as to where the programs might be held.

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