Music teacher Mary Niedballa writes a  welcome message on the board as she gets her classroom ready for Tuesday

Music teacher Mary Niedballa writes a welcome message on the board as she gets her classroom ready for Tuesday

Schools under pressure

Students won’t be the only ones facing homework as classes resume Tuesday

Students won’t be the only ones facing homework as classes resume Tuesday.

Vernon School District officials will be hitting the books to ensure dropping enrolment and tight fiscal conditions can be addressed.

“Given reducing resources, we have to look at how to provide quality education,” said Joe Rogers, superintendent.

As part of the process, Rogers will hold a retreat with trustees in early September to hammer out a five-year plan.

“We may have to look at changing grade configurations or school closures,” he said.

“Some districts create revenue through busing.”

About $2.2 million was chopped from the 2013/14 budget based on enrolment projections.

It included cutting 19 teaching positions, 1.4 school-based administration staff and one custodian. There will also be reduced maintenance staff, while bus routes will be consolidated and inflationary costs for supplies must be absorbed within existing budgets.

It’s anticipated there will be about 7,900 students this September, down 125 to 130 from last year. That continuing trend is largely a result of an aging population and declining birth rate.

A reduction in enrolment has financial implications as the district receives $6,900 per student from the Ministry of Education.

Enrolment could ultimately bottom out at 7,500 students in 2017.

“We’ll start moving back up after that. By 2020, it’s projected to be 7,800,” said Rogers.

The resumption of classes Tuesday also brings the possibility of job action.

Contract talks between the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association came to a halt early in August. They are scheduled to resume this week.

The union  includes bus drivers, custodians, education assistants, youth workers, clerical staff and tradespeople.

“As long as people are talking, we are happy,” said Rogers.

“We’d like to see a settlement because we value our CUPE employees and we want them treated fairly.”

There has been considerable activity underway at all schools over the summer as staff try and ensure everything is ready for the return of students.

“Our maintenance and custodial departments have done a great job,” said Rogers.

“Harwood Elementary has been refitted and there’s been work done on the parking lot at J.W. Inglis.”