Provincial funding announced last week to help with a “near normal” return to school in September isn’t likely to do much to reverse budget cuts approved in next year’s Burnaby school district budget, according to secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill.
At a media briefing last Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced students can expect a full-time return to in-class instruction in the fall without cohorts or learning groups.
At the same briefing, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside announced $25.6 million in new one-time funding for next year, including $14.4 million to support health and safety and $5 million for mental health services.
Horswill said the Burnaby school district’s share of the funds earmarked for health and safety comes to $556,278, and he is still waiting to find out what its allocation of the mental health money will be.
“Certainly it will help with costs directly related to health and safety and, once we know the funding for mental health, it’ll help in that area as well,” he said. “It appears that the grants are being targeted to those two specific areas, so that won’t assist with any of the other budget reductions that were made.”
The district cut the equivalent of nearly 27 teaching positions and 22 support staff in its preliminary 2021/22 budget to address an anticipated $12.4-million budget shortfall created by the lingering financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a drastic drop in international student enrolment.
Horswill said it’s too early to tell if that picture will change at all come September.
“Two things still need to define themselves: one is the state of public health in August because that will direct the types of costs we will incur in September,” he said. “And the second piece is we don’t have any of the funding yet on the mental health allocation.”
Burnaby Teachers’ Association president Daniel Tetrault said he’s happy to see money announced for health and safety and student supports, but he doesn’t think it will go far enough.
“It won’t go very far spread around the province, especially when you look at the budget cuts we had in Burnaby, which will impact the services to students,” he told the NOW. “We’re hoping for an infusion from government to improve the service to students, especially coming out of the pandemic when we know the needs will be even higher.”
Teachers, too, will need extra resources as they emerge out of the pandemic, according to Tetrault.
“They’ve taught in extremely challenging conditions and done everything they can to keep students safe, but not only safe, engaged, throughout the whole pandemic,” he said. “That hasn’t been an easy task and, come September, they’re going to need even more supports as well.”