The Burnaby school district is mulling nearly $4.4 million in cuts for the 2014/15 school year to deal with a projected deficit of $3 million.
The “potential budget adjustments” include increasing class sizes, cutting teacher-librarians and music teachers, and reducing eight fulltime custodian positions. Of that $4.4 million in potential reductions, the district must cut $3.1 million to balance the budget. The district hosted a packed public meeting on Wednesday night, to collect feedback from several delegations to help inform the decision-making process on what the final cuts will be.
Longtime school trustee Ron Burton said the cuts they were considering made trustees sick to their stomachs.
“This board will not take the easy way out,” Burton told the audience. “We know what’s at stake, and we take our deliberations very seriously.”
Burton also said it was time for the government to fund education properly.
“In over 25 years on the board, these have been some of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make,” he said, acknowledging that they could cost people their jobs.
The largest money-saving adjustment would be increasing class sizes at the secondary level, which would reduce 16 full-time teaching positions and save nearly $1.5 million. The district is considering having daytime custodians clean at night, which would be more efficient since students aren’t in school. That move would reduce eight full-time positions and save $650,000.
Another key item was “elementary non-enrolling teachers,” which refers to music teachers and teacher-librarians; the district is considering changes to how they work in order to reduce nearly 10 full-time positions, nine of which are at the elementary level.
There could also be reductions in administration (three positions), aboriginal education (1.8 positions) and district learning support services and staff development, (about two positions). Most of the cuts that would reduce jobs involve rearranging the program or service so that it’s more efficient but would need fewer people.
Burnaby Teachers’ Association president James Sanyshyn spoke at the meeting and acknowledged the district was in a tight position. He blamed the provincial government for under-funding the public education system, but he still took issue with the proposed cuts.
“The board’s mantra has always been to minimize the impact of cuts on direct classroom instruction. Unfortunately, some of these proposed cuts will have the opposite impact,” he said.
Sanyshyn bemoaned the prospect of larger class sizes, fewer librarians and music teachers and no custodians around during the day. He also took issue with cuts to aboriginal education.
“Our aboriginal students have the lowest graduation rates of any of our tracked visible minorities in Burnaby,” Sanyshyn said. “Reducing staff support to these vulnerable learners is counter-intuitive at best and possibly a perception of perpetuation of colonialism at worst.”
Like all districts in B.C., Burnaby is required by law to balance its budget, or the elected board could be dismissed and replaced by provincial bureaucrats.
According to secretary-treasurer Greg Frank, Burnaby has the lowest per pupil funding in the province when all the additional government funding is added up and divided by the total number of students. Burnaby’s operating grant for 2014/15 was $214 million. The provincial government’s base per-pupil funding amount ($6,900) has not changed.
The Burnaby school district has been relatively financially stable, especially when compared to other districts in the province struggling with larger deficits, and in past years, has kept cuts focused on areas that would not impact the classroom.
The final cuts will be announced at the April 22 school board meeting.