School districts bracing for more cuts

B.C.’s new budget is getting a failing grade from educators.

B.C.’s new budget is getting a failing grade from educators.

The provincial government is pumping an extra $564 million into education over three years to cover union contracts, but school districts across B.C. have been instructed to cut administration spending by $29 million next school year and $25 million in 2016/17.

“We are disappointed that the government is taking money out of the system,” said Sterling Olsen, North Okanagan-Shuswap School District secretary-treasurer.

“We are not sure where they believe the savings will come from.”

The impact on districts won’t be known until March 15, but the North Okanagan-Shuswap district could experience a 2015/16 shortfall of $1.3 to $2.8 million.

“It will mean reduced services and programs,” said Olsen.

Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, takes a different viewpoint.

“What we are saying is districts must find efficiencies in administration,” he said.

“There won’t be cuts to the classrooms, that’s not the way it will work.”

The Vernon School District’s portion of the $29 million in 2015/16 could be $450,000.

“Some difficult decisions will have to be made,” said superintendent Joe Rogers, adding that if enrolment remains steady, the district’s shortfall could consist of the $450,000 and increased costs related to utilities, Medical Services Plan and pensions.

Further information about the government’s policy is required.

“We don’t know what the definition of administration is,” said Rogers. “We’re not sure if it means more shared services among districts or savings in the board office.”

Teachers are blasting the government.

“The government says cuts will have to be made to non-instructional programs, but doesn’t say what those could be,” said Brenda O’Dell, North Okanagan-Shuswap Teachers Association president.

“We’ve already seen big cuts to adult basic education and other important programs this year.”

Heather Malcolm, Vernon Teachers Association president, dismisses the government’s argument that education funding is increasing.

“I know what they are saying but Medical Service Plan premiums are going up and I’m not sure if that’s being funded. They are downloading costs,” she said.

Greg Kyllo, Shuswap MLA, defends the government’s handling of the education system.

“We’re still seeing declining enrolment across the province. That may be part of the challenge,” he said.