It doesn’t add up

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Things are going to get even tighter in local school districts

Things are going to get even tighter in local school districts.

An edict has come down from the provincial government that the Vernon School District chop $437,000 in non-instructional costs in the 2015/16 school year, rising to $814,000 in 2016/17. In the neighbouring North Okanagan-Shuswap district, there’s a demand for $362,784 in cuts during the upcoming school year.

Premier Christy Clark, a former education minister, has little sympathy for districts.

“There are a lot of places to find administrative savings and we expect them to do that. We’ve done it all across government,” she said on Global Okanagan.

However, it may be helpful to look at some figures.

According to the Vernon School District, it spent $59.4 million of its operating grant on instruction. A further $9.7 million went to district administration, operations and maintenance, and $2.2 million on busing in 2013/14.

So a grand total of $11.9 million was spent outside of the classroom.

“We’re already spending about $0.9 million or nine per cent less on administration, operations and maintenance than our peers. That has kept desperately needed resources in the classroom,” said Joe Rogers, superintendent.

“But we need an efficient administrative system and clean, safe and functioning schools – and that doesn’t come for free.”

And part of the question that needs to be posed to Clark and the government is, what do they consider administration? Is it just guys walking around in ties barking out orders or is it the people who answer the phones at schools, push brooms or ensure paper and other supplies are stocked? Try providing efficient services and safe schools to students without those hard-working individuals?

In the Global interview, Clark stated, “There is no reason that two school boards that are sitting right beside each other serving almost the same geographical population would have two payroll departments and two human resources departments.”

That may be fair comment in large urban areas such as the Lower Mainland where districts are cheek-to-jowl, but how will that work in the Interior and the north where vast geography rules the day? Yes some payroll and HR work can be done electronically, but even in the modern era, the one-on-one experience is still the best route when dealing with employees.

It should also be pointed out that at the same time Victoria is demanding cuts, the government is trying to get blood out of a stone.

All districts are being asked to pay more in Medical Service Plan premiums while B.C. Hydro rates continue to climb. If Clark’s government was truly interested in preserving the sanctity of the classroom, it would assist districts with those inflationary costs.

“This (cost of living), combined with the administrative cuts imposed by the province, will mean we’re looking for well over $1 million in cost reductions by 2016/17,” said Adrian Johnson, Vernon’s acting secretary-treasurer.

“That’s equivalent to the cost of the teaching staff in an entire elementary school.”

And so there is the bottom line. Despite guarantees from the government that its strategy won’t directly impact students, districts have no way of avoiding that scenario. A lot of administrative savings can come from shutting down a school.

Residents can provide input on the Vernon district’s budget April 1, but don’t stop there. Contact the constituency offices of MLA Eric Foster (250-503-3600) and Clark (250-768-8426) and let them know your thoughts.