School trustees say they're doing everything they can to save money

By David F. Rooney
Revelstoke trustees, irritated by what they are calling “political comments,” have fired off a polite but firm response to Education Minister Peter Fassbender regarding his demands that school districts find additional ways to cut expenditures.
“Every year we absorb more and more downloaded cuts,” SD 19 Chairman Alan Chell said at board’s most recent meeting, held at Arrow Heights Elementary School on Monday, April 13.
Fassbender has made a number of comments in the Lower Mainland news media suggesting that school boards could achieve substantial savings by paring their administrative costs.
Revelstoke has a 2015/16 budget of $9,776,797. However, the ministry has ordered mandatory cuts of $59,150 from its 2015/16 school year budget and an additional $56,000 in 2016/17. That cut lowers next year’s budget to $9,717,647.
In his letter letter, Chell lists 13 ways in which School District 19 already realizes “significant administrative savings:”

  1. WorkSafe BC administration services through SD 23 (Central Okanagan);
  2. The Ministry of the Education’s Provincial Lwearning Network for Internet services’
  3. The Ministry of the Education’s BCeSUIS software solution for student information services;
  4. The BC Public School Employers Association benefits buying group;
  5. The provincial school bus procurement program;
  6. The provincial Schools Protection Plan for liability insurance;
  7. The Ministry of Finance central deposit program for cash management;
  8. The Okanagan Labour Relations Council;
  9. Partnerships with bus repair staff in School District 83 (North Okanagan and Shuswap); and
  10. Partnerships with six other districts on an in-house developed budget preparation program.

“The district also uses the following services, which are subscribed to by many other school districts in the province, resulting in ecpnomies of scale and reduced costs to School District No. 19 (Revelstoke):

  • Enterprise software through SRB Education Solutions;
  • EDCO purchasing for office and classroom supplies; and
  • Use of BCPSEA as the primary contact fr teacher contract issues rather than lawyers.

“We will continue to work to achieve a balanced budget,” Chell said, “however, we note that the ‘low-hanging fruit’ (a phrase Fassbender used in his comments about school district spending) does not exist ino ur district. As previously noted, continued rising costs and a lack of corresponding funding increases are having an impact on the quality of eduction for our students.”
SD 19 has historically enjoyed a comfortable relationship with senior ministry officials. The implied criticism in the letter prompted School Superintendent Mike Hooker to go out of his way and emphasize to The Current that the letter is not aimed at provincial civil servants, but at their political masters.
In a separate, but related letter, that was endorsed by Revelstoke trustees, the BC School Trustees Association fired off its own rocket to Fassbender.
“Boards of Education must not be the recipients of unilateral government policy decisions affecting public education; decisions made without proper input through the voice of Boards of Education,” BCSTA President Teresa Rezansoff said in her organization’s letter.
Meanwhile, on April 17 the BC Teachers’ Federation launched its own rocket at Fassbender over class size and composition.

“Today, the provincial government released class-size and class-composition statistics for this school year,” union President Jim Iker said in a statement. “Based on the reality of (teachers’) own classrooms, it most likely comes as no surprise that these figures show there is virtually no improvement from last year.  According to the government’s own figures, there are 16,156 classes with four or more children with special needs.
“During last year’s strike, Premier Christy Clark promised to make class composition her number one priority.  In a news release sent earlier today, BCTF President Jim Iker reminded the public, that once again the Liberal government has said one thing and then proceeded to do the opposite.
“Christy Clark has broken her promise to BC students, parents, and teachers. Class composition in 2015 is the same as it was in 2014, which was the worst year on record.”
Ministry of Education data shows there are now 16,156 classes with four or more students with special needs, compared to 16,163 classes last year. In addition, 3,895 classes have seven or more children with special needs. In 2014, that number was 3,875.
The data also shows little progress has been made in terms of class composition and support for English Language Learners (ELL), formerly known as ESL students. There are 4,416 classes with seven or more English Language Learners this year, compared to 4,636 last year. Within that total are 2,073 Kindergarten to Grade 3 classes with seven or more English-Language Learners. Last year, there were 1,956 such classes. 
“It is clear to me who really cares about public education in BC,” Iker said.
Please activate the YouTube player below to watch the School Board’s April 13 meeting. You can watch them discuss the two letters at about the 1:19:00 mark: