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School district slashes spending levels
While a projected enrolment increase is good news for the Vernon School District, the rest of the picture isn’t so positive.
After approving its preliminary budget, the board has announced that there will be job cuts for the 2014/15 school year in order to meet the budget shortfall of $1,489,486.
The district is predicting a small enrolment increase at the elementary school level for September.
“While this is very welcome news the district had to reduce expenditures to meet the budget shortfall,” said board chairperson Bill Turanski.
The shortfall is due to the following cost pressures not funded by the Ministry of Education: increased Medical Services Plan costs, increased municipal pension costs, increased Workers’ Compensation rates, increased BC Hydro rates, increased CUPE wage costs, increased teacher and CUPE benefits costs, inflationary costs for supplies.
“I am a bit shocked, because the personnel adjustments are all mostly CUPE and that’s painful,” said CUPE president Mark Olsen.
“We’re getting told that they’re trying to minimize effects to the classroom and yet they’ve made huge cuts to the education assistants.”
Among the expenditure reductions is $342,117 for special education support staff.
“It’s ironic because we’re told that special needs student enrolment is up but they’re cutting it,” said Olsen. “And the problem is that we’re not talking just a couple of people being affected — this is about shaving hours off and cutting jobs.”
Other reductions include $125,000 in transportation routes, and that means more kids will be walking to school. Olsen, a school bus driver, said five routes will be cut, and how the routes will be restructured is not yet clear.
“Definitely more people are going to be walking, but we have yet to see what this looks like because the problem with transportation demographics is that they change, so if the routes are set up now, they won’t necessarily match up in September,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with people walking, but at the same time we’re in a different society and one thing we pride ourselves on is making sure our kids get safely to and from point a to b.”
Other expenditure reductions approved by the board include district office expenditures of $133,667; reduction in maintenance expenditures of $84,306; reduction in library staffing of $96,987; reduction in school clerical staffing of $61,475; reduction in school vice-principal staffing of $64,500; reduction in school supply budgets of $64,155; and reallocation of anticipated year-end surplus of $517,279
“When you see the numbers for restructuring, it affects more than a straight line equation and it’s still starting to sink in,” said Olsen.
“I’m sympathetic to the district, but we’re bearing the brunt of these cuts. Where is our government, where is their concern for public education.”
Vernon Teachers’ Association president Heather Malcolm said she is sympathetic to support staff.
“It’s not good news for CUPE, as they are bearing the brunt of the cuts,” she said. “We are used to the recall list because of our collective agreement, but there will be layoffs of teachers, but how many will be recalled I don’t know.
“And as much as we’re told they want to keep cuts away from the classroom, students are being affected. MSP and Hydro premiums are operational costs, so why aren’t they being funded? We are not a have-not province, but our kids receive less than the national average.”
Turanski said the board continues to be concerned about the devastating annual underfunding of the education system provided by the government.
“Difficult decisions that affect valued employees have been made to balance the budget,” he said. “These cost reductions will result in some reallocation of staff. For some staff members it will translate into reduced hours of work while for others it will result in layoffs. We are currently proceeding with this staff restructuring process.
“It is hoped that with continued future enrolment growth and the Minister of Education’s commitment to examine the funding formula the district will not need to make future cuts.”
He said the board would like to express its thanks to partner groups and community members for their suggested ways of reducing costs, with some suggestions included in the preliminary budget and others being considered for the long term.
“We would also like to recognize the outstanding work our teachers, administrators, maintenance and support staff are providing to students given fewer available resources,” said Turanski.