In the past 14 years, the Vernon School Board has been forced to reduce its operating budget by more than $15 million, and that trend is continuing.
Each spring local school boards across the province are required to submit a balanced budget to the Ministry of Education.
“School District 22 Board of Education does not have local taxation authority to offset cost pressures,” said board chairman Bill Turanski. “Some past reductions have been justified due to declining enrolment in the district but many new financial commitments that have been agreed to by the Ministry of Education are not sufficiently funded, such as the CUPE Collective Agreement.”
In the past three years the board has had to cut its expenses by $5,035,920 to balance the budgets. This year it’s $2,214,920; last year it was $1,061,000 and the previous year cuts totalled $1,760,000.
The cost reductions over this period have included the reduction of 33 teacher positions, two administrator positions and two support staff positions along with a reduction of $300,000 in school and district supply budgets.
For the 2014-2015 school year the district needs to cut its expenses by another $1,500,000 to balance the district’s budget even though enrolment is projected to increase.
With no additional funding provided by the ministry, increased costs include $440,000 for the cost of the CUPE agreement; $91,000 increased municipal pension costs; $25,000 increased WCB costs; $135,000 increased BC Hydro rates; and $232,000 increased benefit costs for CUPE and teachers.
“Meeting these unfunded increases will affect programs and services available to students,” said Turanski. “The board values the excellent work our teachers, administrators and support staff are providing to students given fewer resources available.”
Vernon Teachers’ Association president Heather Malcolm said it’s discouraging news for teachers, as even those with experience don’t have job security.
“It’s frustrating — last year the layoff line was quite high up and if you’ve been in a district for let’s say 10 years and your job is not secure from year to year, it’s very discouraging,” she said. “And it’s very hard for our young teachers; it would be good for it to be funded properly, for teachers to be secure in their jobs.”
While teachers have been asked to accept a 10-year contract to create stability, Malcolm pointed out that with seven different education ministers in 10 years, there is a lack of that same stability at the provincial government.
What Malcolm would like to see is everyone in education advocating for more funding.
“CUPE and teachers are calling on the government not to make cuts, as we are the frontline workers, but where are the other partner groups in this? It’s a really hard thing because teachers have been saying for a long time that government has been underfunding the education system,” she said. “Teachers have been calling out the government on this, but where are the superintendents’ associations and the principals and vice-principals’ associations — you don’t hear them calling out for more money.”
Malcolm said the district is in a difficult position, with so many unfunded costs that have been downloaded by the government.
“The school board’s hands are tied, so we would like to hear the advocating for the proper funding to education from the other groups.
“However, we are still not in job action, so I’m holding out hope.”
CUPE president Mark Olsen said that for years the problem has been the government’s underfunding of education.
“I think that’s an indication of this government’s priorities and they don’t see public education as a priority,” said Olsen. “And yet they seem to find money for other projects but don’t have the funding for our most valued resource, our children.”
He said it’s discouraging for district support staff, who are feeling the effects of the cuts.
“The morale is down and what we’re seeing is the district is looking at lifting up every rock and seeing if they can find savings and many times it’s on the backs of CUPE members,” said Olsen.