By STEPH TROUGHTON
Both the Surrey and Delta school districts are stunned by the recent provincial budget announcement that requires school districts provincewide to reduce spending on administration and related services by $29 million in the upcoming school year and a further $25 million in 2016-2017.
Longtime Surrey school Trustee Laurae McNally called the government directive “completely unfair,” saying the province is “penalizing” Surrey with the funding reduction as the district already has the lowest administrative costs of any of the 60 school districts in the province.
“And it has been that way for years,” McNally said. “You can’t get any lower than number one.”
Though Surrey, the biggest district in the province, already has an efficient administrative budgeting record – and is forced to spend more than $4 million in funding on portable classrooms annually due to a lack of school space – trustees are concerned the province will divide the mandated cuts equally among the B.C. districts.
“Our fear is they will do this on a formula-basis which is totally unfair,” said McNally.
Surrey presently has more than 300 portables and must not only pay for the buildings, but for their depreciation, upkeep, utilities servicing and cleaning. Because the city is growing far more quickly than schools are being built or expanded, temporary portable classrooms cost Surrey more than any other B.C. school district.
The Surrey School District wrote Education Minister Peter Fassbender about the concerns but has yet to receive a response.
Fassbender, however, did issue a public statement Thursday about the province’s funding decision.
“We have to do this (challenge school boards to find administrative savings) because, while we’re putting more into the system, in spite of declining student enrolment, school districts are spending more money on administration than ever before,” he wrote. “Without school districts finding efficiencies administrative costs would rise to almost seven per cent of their budgets by 2019.
“These costs can come down and should come down,” he added “All we’re asking school districts to do is to find administrative savings to reflect the percentage they were spending 10 years ago – about six per cent.”
Delta school district chairperson Laura Dixon also said the announcement was disappointing and came as a complete surprise.
“We are at a bit of a loss where we would go to find these efficiencies,” Dixon said.
Dixon noted Delta is only second to Surrey in having the leanest administrative costs in the province because of reductions made in the past that included cutting student bus services and closing two schools due to declining enrolment.
“It’s not that we don’t understand fiscal responsibility. We live it every day,” said Dixon.
The British Columbia School Trustees Association (BCSTA) reported that although the provincial education budget overall will be increased over the next three years, the majority of the additional funds have been allocated to the cost of new teacher and support staff collective agreements.
District boards are attending meetings over the next couple of weeks to discuss how the spending reduction will be divided among districts.
The provincial government requires all B.C. school districts submit balanced budgets by June 30. All school districts will receive their budget allocations for the upcoming school year in early March.