New Budget letter, by Jack Stevens Feb. 5th

Here is Jack Stevens’ letter as sent to SD71, hospital and now circulating via social media.  Our thoughts on budget reduction are drawn from his suggestions.

To: Board of School Trustees, School District 71

cc. Acting Superintendent Demeo
cc. C.D.T.A. President, Nick Moore
cc. C.U.P.E. President, Denise Bullock cc. Community members upon request

February 5, 2016 Introduction

As a member of the community, I am offering the following comments on the Puntledge Park closure process and the Board’s current budget challenges.

I recognize the Ministry requirement that the Board submit a balanced budget by the end of this school year for the 2016-2017 school year. This will require some difficult adjustments to expenditures. I also recognize that public education in B.C. is underfunded, especially in the K-12 area. However, Trustees must do everything possible to preserve quality classroom learning experiences, and at the same time, safeguard neighbourhood schools.

I believe that it is imperative that Puntledge be kept open in order to allow for a planning process for an integrated Puntledge Park/Lake Trail Community School. Planning would include trustees and staff, parents, teachers, the business community and service providers. An example is the Cumberland Community School model. It would extend the delivery of a wide range of services in the West Courtenay area. Reference from the Ministry of Education: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/…/neighbourhood-learning-centres

Another useful reference on Community Schools is from The Association for Community Education in British Columbia:
http://www.acebc.org/

The Board has for several years used Link money to support various Community School projects. These are good beginnings. They reflect a high degree of community engagement. The Cumberland model is an example of what could be accomplished in a new Puntledge/Lake Trail Community School. I understand a study was previously contemplated to examine the suitability of Lake Trail to develop further as a comprehensive Community School.

The City’s plans for the revitalization and densification of the downtown area makes schools in the area vital to the young families who will be attracted to affordable housing. The present demographic of an aging population and declining enrolment is worrisome, but this trend will change over time and schools which are considered surplus today likely will be needed in the not distant future. In the meantime, parents, many of whom are struggling, need to know that trustees recognize parents’ needs for a neighbourhood school which is vital to families and their community.

We are often reminded that the private sector faces similar challenges in difficult times. However, when companies are forced to downsize the last reductions made are in their core service areas. Similarly, Trustees should examine all discretionary expenditures in order to preserve neighbourhood schools. Trustees are
charged with the responsibility of providing required student programs and curricula. But also to engage the community in a meaningful way in the process. This will require a paradigm shift in leadership for elected trustees and administrators.

Another factor for the Board to keep in mind is the current appeal by the B.C.T.F. over ‘class size and composition’ issues in their Collective Agreement which was overturned by the Appeal Court. However, this will now be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. Should the B.C.T.F’s position be upheld, there will undoubtedly need to be significant changes in staffing in all School Districts.

In my opinion, this is not the time to close Puntledge Park Elementary School, an excellent neighbourhood school, which by any standard, meets the needs of the children and their parents. Closing it would weaken the community. It is time to reconsider all the options open to the Board, difficult as they may be, in meeting the Ministry’s requirement for a balanced budget and at the same time protecting the community’s schools which are entrusted to trustees to preserve and protect.

Possible Reductions – Immediate

-Suspend Superintendent hiring until Dec 31st
-Review role description and reduce salaries for Superintendent and Secretary Treasurer.
– Reduce Board Administration by a minimum of three positions
(either by retirement or reassignment)
-Reduce Human Resources staff
-Negotiate a rate decrease with B.C. Hydro and expand School Smart Program
-Increase foreign student fees by 10%
– Close Tsolum School and relocate NIDES to Lake Trail
-Reduce vice principals in secondary, eliminate in elementary
-Suspend all Out- of- District Travel at Board expense
– Seek an Increase in Links funding
-Eliminate ‘District Principal Designation’ and allowance
-Freeze all new administrator hiring
-Reduce Trustee stipends by 10%
-Seek an extension on the Budget Submission extension in view of loss of Superintendent and Secretary Treasurer midway in the budget planning process.
– If necessary, submit a ‘Needs Budget’ to the Ministry.

Possible Reductions- Future

– Negotiate sale/lease of the School Board site to e.g. the City ,Regional District, Business Community
– Reduce space requirements and relocate School Board Offices.
– Review Transportation costs

– Investigate Grant sources and Shared Funding, e.g. Vancouver Foundation
Comox Valley Foundation, Ministry (Rural Education) City, Non-Profits, Business Community,Service Clubs. – Plan for a referendum to support development of a ‘Community Education Centre’ (see School Act URL)

To conclude, Trustees must continue to meet the challenge of providing high quality educational programs while also facing financial shortages. But, they should also use this opportunity to demonstrate a renewed commitment to a school system which meets the community’s needs, one which fully engages all stakeholders in the community.

J Stevens B.Ed, M.A. (Community Education)

Jack Stevens Budget Letter 5 Feb