Emotional last-ditch plea for illegal education budget

Sheri Kinney urges the board to not consign the district resource centre to the graveyard as part of this year’s budget process. - Krista Siefken
Sheri Kinney urges the board to not consign the district resource centre to the graveyard as part of this year’s budget process.
— image credit: Krista Siefken

Elementary teacher Naomi Nilsson pauses in front of the microphone, wiping away the tears that suddenly spring from her eyes.

“I can be made to feel like a failure,” she says, her voice breaking, “but my children should not be made to feel like that.”

Sitting in the audience, Frances Kelsey student Jazmyn Mari suddenly stands up and addresses the crowd.

She remembers showing up at school to find the beloved Kelsey theatre dark, empty, and closed to students, and she too begins to cry.

And when Sarah Joe, who has six grandchildren and a Grade 10 education, wheels her walker to the waiting microphone, flanked on either side by her son and her husband, her emotional turmoil prevents her from finishing her statement.

But she makes one message clear to the school trustees listening.

“I want to see them have something I didn’t have.”

Monday’s presser-cooker public meeting about School District 79’s budget was filled with tears and anger, frustration and hope.

The majority of those who gathered at Quamichan Middle School begged the school board to pass a no-cuts budget this year.

And they brought out the big emotional guns to get the job done.

“Do you know what it’s like to feel like a failure at work every day?” Nilsson asked.

She said the hard work of teachers is offset by continued budget and resource cuts — which means kids are falling behind, slipping through the cracks, and ultimately feeling like failures themselves.

“How many children must suffer before this board decides this is enough, Nilsson asked.

Nilsson is among those urging trustees to send a message to the province by passing a deficit budget — an illegal move that could ultimately lead to them being fired.

Most observers expect the board of education to line up 5-4 in favour of submitting a balanced budget.

First and second reading of that budget happens tonight, and in its current form continues a years-long tradition of cuts.

The budget proposes elimination of 10.8 teacher positions — including four student achievement teachers — the introduction of busing fees for French immersion and school-of-choice students, and reducing support for vulnerable students and small secondary schools.

The district will also save about $335,000 with another two-week spring break, which was approved 5-4 Monday night.

Monday’s four-hour public forum, meanwhile, heard from students, parents, teachers and other members of district staff.

Judy Ilan, a long-time district employee, urged trustees to think about the people behind the numbers and statistics — but admitted to having little faith they’d opt in favour of a deficit budget.

After all, she’s made the request many times previously.

“How many times,” she asked, “have I done this?”

Bruce Kennedy, vice-chairman of the Cowichan Valley District Parent Advisory Council, reminded the crowd the “enemy” is not local trustees, but the Ministry of Education, which is not providing districts with enough money to do their jobs.

But others called on the trustees to take a stand.

“Be brave,” advised Shona Moore. “Stand up for what you were entrusted to do.”

“You’ll have the support of your community,” promised Duncan Brown.

“Children’s futures shouldn’t be sacrificed for savings,” reasoned 19-year-old Nicholas Peter. “You can be our heroes.”

Board chairwoman Candace Spilsbury said the personal stories shared by the many speakers “helped to make the budget real, so that you could understand from a student’s perspective, or from a parent’s perspective, what the implications of budgets are — particularly budget cuts.”

Spilsbury said trustees will reflect on the comments before voting on the budget that’s followed a “particularly brutal” budget season.

“There were a number of people who requested the board to pass a no-cuts, deficit budget, and so that decision will be made on May 11 at the board meeting.”

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