Cuts to special education services were the main concern voiced by audience members during the Coast Mountains School District’s special budget meeting June 22.
Members of the audience expressed heated reactions to some of the cuts proposed in the district’s 2011/2012 preliminary budget, primarily those to special education services.
Joseph Ivens is the parent of a child in the district and told board members he is upset about a 20 per cent reduction in money for special education services.
“Has there been a 20 per cent reduction of students with special needs?” he asked board trustees and district staff. Ivens also noted it looks as though the budget will be increasing spending on principals, vice principals and other professionals.
“I am frankly quite disgusted with anybody who would vote to reduce a budget by 20 per cent for special needs,” he said.
Wilma Maier, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees for the area, asked why cuts were being placed so disproportionately on special education services.
“We know that the ministry underfunds education,” Maier said. “But the trustees will make a bad situation worse with their proposal to cut classroom services for the neediest children in the district, while at the same time putting money into higher management salaries and more management staff at the board office.”
Superintendent Nancy Wells explained that in a year where the board was trying to cut $1.5 million from the budget, it had to look at where the money was.
She explained that special education in the district gets approximately $4 million from the Ministry of Education and the district has been spending approximately $8 million.
“So it looks a bit unbalanced from an outside perspective but that happens to be where the board had to go look for some of the savings because there is a lot of unfunded support there,” Wells said.
Board chair Barry Pankhurst explained that two-thirds of the additional spending on district staffing positions is the result of filling a previous vacancy as well as a medical leave.
He said there has been only one new position created: district principal.
“That was created because are going down a different path and we need someone that can go into all schools and work with principals and vice principals,” Pankhurst said.
That person will be working with everyone trying to establish a new process of delivering education, he explained.
Pankhurst said once they know the number of students who are going to require services and support in September the budget will be looked at again. He said some of the extra dollars for principals and vice principals will be going to training as the district prepares to head in a new direction.
The 2011/2012 preliminary budget of $53 million was passed in its third reading in a 6-2 vote, opposed only by Terrace trustee Tanis Kilpatrick and Thornhill trustee Gary Turner. Kilpatrick cited cuts to student services while Turner cited lack of information as reasons behind their opposition.
Kilpatrick also expressed concern in regards to staffing cuts when enrolment seems to be holding relatively stable. She thinks this may cause issues in classroom sizes and composition in the fall.
However, other trustees voiced support of the preliminary budget. Terrace trustee Art Erasmus explained it is a requirement for the board to have this budget done by the end of June.
“The fact that we have all said we would like to have more money for programs, we have all said that many times before,” he said.
“This budget is something that every board has to do every year.”
He was supported by Kitimat trustee Raymond Raj, who said the board is putting this budget forward with the understanding that there will be adjustments once enrolment numbers are confirmed and the exact amount of money coming for the 2011/2012 school year is known.
“We have to move forward and that is what we are doing,” Raj explained.
Terrace trustee Diane Penner expressed confidence in the budget, saying at no point was delivering the best possible education to students not the highest priority.
Submiting a balanced preliminary budget is something that school boards in this province are required to do by the end of June.
They base their dollar amounts on estimates as actual enrolment numbers will not be known until September.
Pankhurst said the board is trying to trying to balance the budget without the use of reserve funding.
“The board is in a dilemma in the sense that we need to get our house in order,” he said. “We have been spending beyond our means for years and years.”