By Dale Bass
Kamloops This Week
While she welcomes the money coming back to the district, the chairwoman of the Kamloops-Thompson school board is frustrated with the provincial government.
Denise Harper said there was no indication from Victoria that money school districts were ordered to cut from administration costs this fiscal year would be returned to them.
For School District 73, it amounts to $673,698, which Education Minister Mike Bernier announced this week would be returned to the district coffers.
Harper argued there are strings attached to the funds that continue to set up false expectations for teachers, other staff, parents and students.
Education Minister Mike Bernier disagreed, saying school districts are free to spend the money as they see fit.
Harper said she felt, after reading Bernier’s press release, the money being returned is to be used for hiring new teachers, programming or maintaining schools despite declining enrolment.
Bernier disagreed, saying districts have the flexibility to use it in whatever way they want, including administration costs, although he would hope the funds would be directed to frontline teaching, including hiring teachers or helping programs or schools impacted by declining enrolment.
Harper took issue with putting money into a school where the student population is declining, saying it sets up a false expectation for parents — at some point, if enrolment doesn’t increase, the schools will still be eyed for closure.
In terms of saving programs, Harper noted that, while it’s possible some of the money could be used to keep the hairdressing program at NorKam secondary alive for another year, the reality is the money and staff allocated to it have been moved to other courses.
Returning staff members, she said, affects the courses where the resources have been moved.
All secondary students have made course decisions for next year and, along with elementary grades, resources have all been allocated, Harper said.
Kamloops-Thompson school district Supt. Karl deBruijn said administrators and trustees have to consider, when allocating the money, if there is wisdom in using one-time funding for programs that have ongoing costs because they could be “just delaying the inevitable.”
Harper said the announcement on Tuesday “came out of the blue,” as did one last week announcing changes to the education system that include reducing the number of provincial exams from five to two.
“It seems to be the way they do things,” she said.
While the mandated administration cuts have been returned to the educational side of the budget, Harper pointed out there was another $1.4 million in cuts the district had to make to ensure it presented a balanced budget.
“A lot of areas are really, really cash-strapped,” she said of the district. “We haven’t had to cut off the whole leg yet, but we’re well above the knee.”
When asked if cuts and unexpected funding infusions make budgeting a challenge, deBruijn laughed and said: “It’s never boring. Imagine coming to work knowing you have money to spend.”
He added however, that it’s a “nice problem” to have money to spend.