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School closure still an option as SD 70 budget crunch looms
The Alberni Valley school district is reopening the possibility of closing a school to save costs in the new budget year.
“The board would have to look at all things including that,” SD70 secretary treasurer Lindsay Cheetham said of de-commissioning a school.
“If we need to balance the budget we’ll have to figure out a way to do that, either through staff or program cuts, or through some other method.”
School District 70 is still facing cost increases that didn’t have an accompanying increase in resources, Cheetham said.
Specifically, teachers’ pensions are costing the district $250,000 this year. As well, CUPE wage increases tally in at $166,000 this year, and will cost $300,000 next year.
The district also received fewer dollars for transportation, but it reconfigured bus routes and tendered a new water taxi contract on the West Coast to deal with it, he said.
A $1 million surplus from last year is allowing the district to pay for increases over and above the district’s overall budget.
The cost pressures and how to deal with them remain a topic of discussion with trustees. “We have to figure out a plan with the board for next year and moving forward,” Cheetham said.
Last February, trustees voted unanimously to not close an elementary school this year. However, no detailed plan was laid out about how they were going to make up the $300,000 they would have saved had they closed a school.
The district submitted a cost saving plan to the Ministry of Education in October that outlined how it was going to deal with the CUPE increase. But the plan isn’t being made public, Cheetham said.
“We’ve outlined some options about what we can do to save money but there’s nothing definite in it,” he said.
Cheetham cited legal reasons for why the cost saving plan won’t be made public. Bargaining with CUPE isn’t over until the district signs off on the plan. “The legal counsel at BCPSEA (B.C. Public School Employers’ Association) said that (revealing) it might jeopardize bargaining.”
A school may not have been closed last year “but the budget crunch never went away,” School District 70 trustee Gaelle Frey said.
The matter hasn’t been discussed at public board meetings. “It will be talked more about after Christmas during the budget discussions,” Frey said.
The Alberni District Teachers’ Union has been left out of the loop on any discussions about the issue, and that’s unfortunate, president Ken Zydyk said.
“We want to help, but you can’t be part of the solution when you’re not part of the problem solving.”
The transportation issue was resolved. “What other challenges are there that can be targeted in a specific way — we don’t know,” Zydyk said. “We’ve had no discussions about what other avenues there may be.”
The ADTU asked the district to be part of the process “but they haven’t responded to our request,” Zydyk added.