Trustee backs Cowichan

Province holding a hammer over boards’ heads says trustee Julie Austin

School District 69 (Qualicum) trustee Julie Austin is doing her part to support 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 with the Cowichan school district voted to restore programs and services for their students, including teacher-librarians, counsellors, learning assistance teachers, custodians, and five additional days to the school calendar.

Although Austin failed to get her board to send a letter of support to the only school board in the province that didn’t submit a balanced budget, she said she will be asking for the board’s support on the issue again.

In voting for a deficit, Cowichan trustees put their jobs on the line because the School Act requires boards to pass balanced budgets.

Austin said she admires that they have taken such a strong stand in support of education.

“It is quite a huge hammer George Abbott is holding over school boards heads … saying they will be removed if they do not pass a balanced budget.”

Austin believes school boards have to support one another and lobby the government for more money for education.

“I think it is important to support them (Cowichan) because we can’t continue to send a message to the province that we are OK with getting less funding. As long as we continue to balance budgets without money for adequate service we won’t get anywhere with the government,” she stated.

The BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) is also supporting Cowichan School District trustees’ calling it a courageous decision to pass a budget which reflects the actual needs in their school community, rather than budgeting for deeper cuts and greater loss of services.

“We are really cheering on these trustees who have taken such a strong stand on behalf of public education and the students and teachers of their community. With their actions, they are saying it’s time to end the decade of cuts in our schools and we couldn’t agree more,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert.

The BCTF is calling on its members to write letters of support to the Cowichan trustees, and to contact their MLAs and the Education Minister who has clearly stated that he will fire the Cowichan trustees if they don’t balance their budget.

Austin has sent a personal letter to the minister and in it she states:

“School trustees, as elected representatives, have been tasked with the responsibility to reflect the values of their constituents in regard to the education of their children. As someone who has extensively interacted with my own constituents, I believe that the trustees on the Cowichan School Board do reflect the values of the vast majority of their constituents when they identify that the existing funding formula is fundamentally flawed and needs a thorough review. I urge the government of BC to acknowledge the democratic process and work with the Cowichan School Board and their sister school boards to find solutions that will benefit all the students in BC.”

District 69 (Qualicum) board chair Lynette Kershaw said it is hard to balance the budget in very trying circumstances as well as providing sound education for students.

She personally supports Cowichan trustees and said School District 69 (Qualicum) is preparing a letter to send to George Abbott, but it has to go through internal departments first.

“I feel strongly about supporting the issue.  I don’t think you can manage a resource by threatening it,” she said.