Education savings revert back to schools

District budgets boosted by province's repeal on cuts

The provincial government has reversed its former decision that would have seen school districts forced to cough up another $25 million in savings to help manage their local education budgets.

The money originates from the B.C. Liberal government’s previous mandate for school districts to cut $29 million in 2015, and a further $25 million in 2016 through “administrative savings.”

On May 31, Education Minister Mike Bernier announced school districts will now be able to keep that amount they had formerly been required to pay back for the second year of that plan, and re-introduce it into their budgets “any way they see fit” – whether that means hiring teachers, funding programs, or school maintenance.

In the Cariboo-Chilcotin School District (SD27), this tallies up to $259,687 to be funnelled back into public education.

SD27 chair Tanya Guenther says it is “great to hear” that these dollars will be given back to school districts.

“However, this is still not enough to offset the additional unfunded costs that have been downloaded to school boards, such as BC Hydro rate increases, Medical Services Plan premium increases and wage increases for our exempt staff.”

Since the announcement was made on Tuesday, Guenther says she has not yet had an opportunity to confirm if this number matches the SD27’s budgeted savings for this year, she explains

“It appears that this is for the current school year, 2015/16. Until I have a chance to get an update from our staff and have this discussion at the board table, I am not sure what the impacts will be.”

She notes the board is still facing a $1 million deficit for the 2016/17 school year – and further, unknown shortfalls down the road.

“I would hope that even with the required administrative savings, school boards will continue to receive these dollars to use for supporting students.”

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says she “knows government is continuously looking at finances and at efficiencies, but also at what’s best for students,” and that she’d like to see the children as the beneficiaries.

“Hopefully, it goes back to students in the classrooms, hiring teachers or special education or whatever … to assist teachers in delivering services.”

Teachers deliver “good education programs” and have been asking for changes, such as fewer annual exams, more access for parent input about teachers and schools, and other issues, she explains.

“To me, this shows that government is very concerned about education and wants to ensure that students and teachers have the tools to provide education as it should be.”

While her main concern is it benefits students, she is confident the local school board will put the money to good use.

“I’m sure this will help the school board alleviate a lot of their concerns. [SD27] has worked hard to manage its funding and to manage what it is doing [with it].”

Cariboo Chilcotin Teachers’ Association president Murray Helmer notes that while it’s yet to be seen where the board will spend it or if it will help with recent school closures, it is “welcome news” that there will be some additional funding in the district.

“I would hope that it is used directly for supporting student learning, and that even though the savings were administrative in nature, I would hope that it will not go back into the administration budget.

“There are so many needs that need to be addressed, and this money would go a long way toward that.”

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