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Board objects to ‘ludicrous’ drive to cut costs

District 73 among most efficient, officials maintain
May 10, 2016 10:07 A.M.
School board votes approval of its budget at Tuesday's meeting in Savona.

The B.C. government’s provincewide push on school districts to come up with more administrative savings has some pushback from Kamloops-Thompson School Board.

“We will continue to pursue this until we get some straight answers,” Denise Harper, chairwoman, told the board Tuesday.

The board isn’t happy with the glib tone from the B.C. Ministry of Education and MLA Todd Stone on the government’s insistence on continual cutting.

After years of belt-cinching, much of which Harper detailed in correspondence with the mnistry, there isn’t much more to trim, the board feels.

“To ask us to reduce more is ludicrous,” she said, choosing the word carefully.

Pressed early in the year by a deputy minister to provide examples of administrative savings in District 73, Harper responded with an outline and a request: “We respectfully request that in future the Ministry of Education engage district staff in consultations prior to introducing measures such as the administrative savings initiative of last year and this.”

Administrative savings apply, not simply to management costs, but to the vast array of expenditures outside of instruction, such as school buildings. District 73 closes its 14th school this year, Stuart Wood elementary.

Harper wasn’t at all happy with the reply she got from Dave Byng, deputy minister, which arrived four months later with an apology. He stuck to the government’s script, not acknowledging Harper’s point. 

“I just wanted to take note of examples of administrative savings we’ve made over time,” Harper explained. “I made the assumption that he was interested.”

In a letter to MLA Todd Stone, Harper recounted a decade of cost savings and defended the economic track record of school districts. The government’s unrelenting call for cuts is taking its toll on staff and driving them out of the field, she suggested. Stone’s reply, three months later, didn’t address her point, more side-shuffling from Victoria, observed Trustee Joseph Small.

“It really surprises me every time you write a letter how long it takes to respond,” said Trustee Joan Cowden, pointing to the importance of the subject.

“My assumption is that it probably took quite a while to craft the response,” Harper said.

Expecting all school districts to dig deep for administrative savings is like telling everyone to lose 20 pounds regardless of their weight, said Trustee Megan Wade.

Harper said after Tuesday's meeting that she was disappointed by Stone's reply.

“I haven’t replied because I’m so discouraged. It’s like we’re deliberately ignored. It’s a little insulting.”

As expected, the board passed the school district's 2016-2017 budget Tuesday night when they met at Savona elementary school. The balanced fiscal plan means cutting 25.8 full-time equivalent staff positions unless newly arriving students boost enrolment in September, bringing an increase in per-student funding.


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