By Dale Bass
Kamloops This Week
If Premier Christy Clark is looking for ways for school districts to cut more costs, Kelvin Stretch has a suggestion.
The secretary-treasurer of the Kamloops-Thompson school district would like to see the Ministry of Education review each district separately and identify those that could do more and those that have already made many hard financial decisions.
“We’ve closed schools,” Stretch said. “There are districts out there that haven’t closed any schools.”
During the budget speech earlier this month, the B.C. Liberal government included a mandate that all school districts find ways to, collectively, cut $29 million from administration and related services in the 2015-2016 school year and another $25 million the following year.
Stretch said other than the general statement, no specifics have been given to districts about how the requirement will affect them. He said he’s expecting to learn more on March 12, when the government will release preliminary funding information for the coming school year.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said last week he hasn’t looked at imposing specific dollar-figure savings on each district.
He said they could come in many ways; one district, for example, identified a $7,000 saving by changing the way it processed its payroll, while other neighbouring districts have found savings by working together on projects.
Fassbender noted the savings amount to one-half of one per cent of the $5.4-billion education budget.
Board of education vice-chairwoman Meghan Wade said any more cuts to the budget would be difficult.
“We have always been a financially prudent district, and we have always kept as much of our money as we can in the classroom,” Wade said.
“We have always put our students first.”
The B.C. School Trustees Association (BCSTA) has spoken out against the government action, decrying the fact any money saved will not remain within the public-education system, but removed from it.
The BSCTA said boards across the province will face financial shortfalls with the upcoming monetary announcement because, while money has been added to the education budget, most of it will go toward paying the cost imposed on boards through recent bargaining with unions representing teachers and support staff.
“It is clear the new provincial education budget will mean further cuts in school districts across the province,” said BCSTA president Teresa Rezansoff.
“The money allocated in the 2015-2016 provincial budget for public education simply will not cover our increasing costs — and now we are seeing millions of dollars taken away from school districts for other uses.”
Stretch said one approach School District 73 has taken in identifying potential cuts to the budget is to not do them in isolation, but “sit as a management group and look at the whole district.”
That has helped administrators, for example, identify cuts in one department that really just shift the work to another, not really accomplishing much on the bottom line.
“We’ve had better discussions on the challenges,” Stretch said.
The strategy has brought the district praise, he said, with visitors commenting on how the district seems to be together.
“We’re all working in the same direction,” he said.
“We’re blessed with that because it’s been very efficient and effective.”