Sad faces but few surprises as SD79 balances budget
An unexpected compromise preceded the expected approval of School District 79’s controversial budget.
Trustees passed the $72-million document in a predictable 5-4 vote on Wednesday night — but not before some last-minute give-and-take.
After hastily scribbling figures on scraps of paper and punching numbers into a small calculator, trustees Eden Haythornthwaite and Hannah Seymour proposed shifting $135,900 from unallocated literacy funds, the travel budget and miniscule surplus toward 1.5 achievement teachers.
Trustee Seymour pointed out the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council was generously willing to match that funding from a small surplus in dollars for Aboriginal education, which means the district can now fund three extra achievement teachers for all vulnerable students.
They didn’t appear particularly hopeful the idea would be approved, considering several suggestions they’d made just minutes before had all been routinely quashed.
But the final effort from the two trustees — who are habitually thwarted in their efforts to cease cutting staff, programs and services by submitting a deficit budget — passed unanimously.
That was perhaps the only high note in a sour evening that included district staff members anxiously listening in the boardroom gallery — some even learning their jobs were being eliminated that evening.
Cowichan trustees have consistently agreed the provincial government is to blame for inadequately funding education, but have long been split on how to deal with it.
Four — including Haythornthwaite and Seymour — have lobbied to submit a “no-cuts,” or deficit, budget that would likely see the board fired and a ministry trustee appointed.
The remaining five trustees have instead worked with what they’ve been given, voting in favour of a budget that’s balanced, but has eliminated positions such as the district’s literacy and numeracy specialists, as well as a number of teachers.
“We talk about how terrible it would be if we were fired because a ministry person would come here, and yet when I look around the room during budget time, I know the ministry person is already here,” Haythornthwaite reasoned.
“I’m asking people to think again; how many more years of this? How many more years? It’s not going to stop.”
“I guess we could be fired, and yes, it could be the start of the end of boards, but you know, when I became a trustee, I thought one of my jobs was to really stand up for the community, and really advocate for our classroom conditions and our students.”
But chairwoman Candace Spilsbury pointed out it’s hard to advocate if you’re kicked off the board.
“You say, ‘Stand up for kids.’ I believe I am standing up for kids,” she said. “I’m standing up for the community, standing up for kids, because if I’m fired what does that do? It brings a ministry person here to do what they will, and I’ not prepared for that. I’m prepared to stand up, in my way.”
Some highlights from the budget include the additional insurance cost of $51,539.42 — mandated by the Ministry of Education just days before Wednesday’s meeting — and the rejection of charging busing fees for French immersion and out-of-catchment students.
At the request of Education Minister George Abbott, the board also voted 5-4 in favour of not building contingency funds into the budget for costs likely to arise in April, due to the recent court decision that found Bills 27 and 28 unconstitutional.
Check the News Leader Pictorial next week for a look at the costs and revenue from the district’s international program.