$4.2 million in school budget cuts will mean ‘amputation’

District staff finding it increasingly difficult to maintain adequate levels of service for students

Richmond’s Board of Education has invited local MLAs to its next public meeting where trustees will be tasked to cut an estimated $4.2 million from its operating budget.

After repeated years of provincial cuts to education programs, compounded by declining enrolment, Richmond School District secretary treasurer Mark De Mello said there is no “fat” to trim.

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“It is much harder to cut now than it was five years ago. At first, you trim the fat. Then you get into the flesh. Then you amputate. It’s a bit of a gruesome analogy, but that’s how best to describe it,” said De Mello, who noted close to $1 million of the $4.2 million in cuts will come at the administrative level — a near mirror of last year’s budget situation.

This, despite a report released last December from the BC Association of School Business Officials that indicates B.C. has the lowest per pupil district administration costs in Canada, spending 30 per cent less than other provinces, per Statistics Canada. 

The cuts are by order of the Ministry of Education, which budgeted $25 million in administration cost savings to the public education system for the upcoming school year — a move that’s part of the government’s overall goal of balancing the budget. Richmond’s share is $900,000. 

Last year, the government cut $29 million from school administration province-wide.

“We’re already by far one of the leanest administrative systems,” said De Mello.

The district will also need to find approximately $3.3 million in savings, about $400,000 of which will come at the expense of teaching positions on account that the district will have about 300 fewer students next year.

De Mello will present the trustees with various options for a balanced budget at a public meeting on May 18. He said it was too soon to state publicly what those cuts may entail. 

The public can come to the meeting and pose questions and comments. Trustees also invited local MLAs John Yap, Linda Reid and Teresa Wat to attend.

The board must pass a balanced budget or face possible discipline from the Ministry.

Despite Vancouver’s board recently not approving a balanced budget, Richmond trustees appear, so far, willing to take the Ministry’s order — although not without some push back.

Board chair Debbie Tablotney wrote to Education Minister Mike Bernier in January, telling him that the administrative cuts and staffing reductions of past years have resulted in “untenable workloads, declining morale and an inability to provide the desired level of service to our parent and student community.”

Tablotney “urged” Bernier to recognize the constant budget cuts are not sustainable and that fewer services for students are inevitable each time.

More than three months later, in late April, Bernier’s Deputy Minister, Dave Byng, wrote back to Tablotney and the board.

“Overall education funding is up $110 million compared to last year’s budget and the Ministry is investing a record $5.1 billion in public education this year,” wrote Byng. “Annual education funding is $1.2 billion higher than it was in 2000/01.”

Byng added he was “confident” the district could identify new savings “without impacting classroom instruction.”

While total provincial grant money to Richmond has increased this year, the board has noted costs such as medical payments and utility bills have risen as well.

Letter exchanges can be found on the district's meeting agenda for May 2

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