Wage increases may impact school district budget

Tracy Hughes

Black Press

The deadline pressure is off, but the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District doesn’t believe it’s off the hook for additional budget cuts asked for by Education Minister Don McRae.

In December, school districts around the province received a letter from the minister informing them they should be putting aside 1.5 per cent of their budgets for each of the next two years to cover staff wage increases and that this was to be done by mid-January. In the North Okanagan-Shuswap, this would mean cutting $600,000 out of the current budget and this had to be done without cutting service levels.

Now, however, the government appears to have backed off slightly, saying the letter was asking, rather than ordering these budgeted changes. It has also removed the mid-January deadline.

The district recently received an e-mail from the B.C. School Trustees Association saying McRae apologized about the matter, but it is unclear whether he was sorry about the deadline, how the matter was handled or whether the school districts would still have to make these cuts.

“I actually laughed,” said Bobbi Johnson, board chairperson.

“Does this mean that all the correspondence from the ministry should be taken as requests and we don’t actually have to do what they are telling us?”

Johnson is convinced the district will still be on the hook to find cash to cover wage increases without any additional government funding.

“They’ve removed the Jan. 15 deadline, but from what I have read, they have not backed off on finding this money. McRae has not said anywhere that we no longer have to do that.”

Johnson says the public needs to be aware of what is going on with education funding.

“We agree that people need raises, but we can’t keep taking it out of the budget we already have without seriously impacting services to students. Kids should be our top priority.”

Johnson said the board will wait for further clarification from the ministry about the issue.


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