Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Education cuts loom for many parts of British Columbia

"We believe the provincial government has an obligation to fund those costs to ensure we are able to provide adequate staffing and resource levels to meet the needs of our students."-- Vancouver School Board chair, Patti Bacchus, no doubt offering up the discussion point for many of the provinces school boards in the wake of a funding crisis that is requiring drastic action.

While School District 52 contemplates the road to consultation and consolidation, they can at least go about their efforts with the knowledge that they are not alone with the burden of decision making.

Across the province this week, as school trustees return to the hard work of a new year of financial decision making, word is filtering out about massive layoff announcements, lengthy lists of potential school closures, rollbacks in trustee compensation and even the consideration of a four day work week. All potential solutions designed to try and meet the guidelines from a province which it seems is not inclined to add any more money into the pot.

With many districts contemplating serious decisions, almost universally the finger is being pointed back at the provincial government for it's less than fulsome funding of educational budgets.

In Richmond a 9 million dollar shortfall has that school board considering layoffs, though they haven't come up with a hard number of potential jobs to be eliminated yet and even introducing a two week spring break to save money. Consultations there take place over the course of the next two weeks.

Vancouver's school board issued a warning yesterday that it faced a potential shortfall of between 17.5 to36.3 million dollars in 2010/11, a financial crisis that could mean up to 800 jobs removed due to layoff.

Likewise in Prince George, the math isn't going to add up for administrators, a 7 million dollar deficit means that School District 57 is now considering the closure of up to 14 schools, reconfiguring existing grades and changing the size of classes to meet the challenges of deficit reduction. Job cuts there as well are an option, though the school district has no idea how many if any would be required to meet their budget goals.

The Vancouver Sun's Janet Steffenhagen through her blog the Report Card, has been tracking the sudden surge of dire predictions and decisions from the provinces school districts, a growing list that outlines the growing frustration for educators, administrators and parents as long held perceptions of the educational system get a radical review.

Across the province, much will depend on what the final numbers from Victoria will be when delivered in the provincial budget on March 15th.

The province says that they have actually been increasing funding to education, but that declining enrollment is the root cause of the majority of the problems for school districts across the province. Funding to BC's Education system topped 4.55 billion dollars this year, an increase of 84 million.

With declining enrollment apparently the talking point that the province is going to stick with as its barometer of how best to address funding, they now seem to be shifting the responsibility to the school boards to determine the best way to make do with the money they have, without adding to a debt load that the province does not wish to pass on to the taxpayer.

If the Campbell government continues to stick to its stated agenda of a funding formula that doesn't match up with current requirements and creates a cash crisis that requires drastic cuts , then more layoffs, more school closures and other significant changes to the educational system will continue in every district in the province.

What remains to be seen is if that educational system that survives the required financial carving, will be able to deliver a standard of education that parents and taxpayers (and voters as well) will find acceptable, or if the Campbell Liberals will soon find coming their way a backlash from each and every one of the affected districts.

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