"The Prince George school board will have to look at savings from enrolment declines, reductions at the central school district office level and cutbacks in services to schools to meet a budget shortfall, officials say."
That's not a line from this week's story about the provincial government wanting school boards to trim their budgets to pay for the wage increases of support staff.
Rather, it's the lead sentence in a Citizen front page story from March 2003.
At the time, Christy Clark was the education minister and she was putting the squeeze on school districts across the province to slash budgets, particularly in this area with its dwindling student population and its numerous small and underattended rural schools.
Not much has changed in 10 years, particularly Clark's utter disdain for school boards and the trustees who sit on them.
A decade ago, Clark had no problem telling school boards that they had the power to make the best local decisions about how to best spend their education funds on area students.
A high school teacher could have told her that she didn't mean to use the word power. The word she meant to use was responsibility.
Then and now, school boards have the responsibility of taking whatever the education ministry gives and spending that money at the district level.
That resides exclusively with the ministry and the minister. If the school board does not balance its budget or anything else the ministry doesn't like, the minister has the power to fire the entire board, even though they were elected by local voters, and appoint a handpicked new board or have senior ministry officials run things until the next municipal election.
So when the government "requests" school boards to trim their budgets to pay for those support staff wages increase, it's not actually a request.
It's a demand.
If the School District 57 board refuses to comply, that could lead to a deficit and that's how school boards get fired, like what happened in Cowichan last year.
Normally, voters are in charge of the hiring and firing of elected officials but school trustees not only answer to area residents every three years, they answer to the education ministry annually in terms of their budget.
And, unlike the provincial government, school districts have to file real balanced budgets, where the definition of "real" is that the numbers actually add up and the anticipated revenues are based on reality, not wishes to Santa or other fabrications.
Contrast that to the not-real balanced budget the provincial government will unveil next month. If the Prince George school district filed that kind of budget, with the same disregard for basic accounting principles and procedures, not to mention the intelligence of the voters, a deputy minister of education would rightly tell Prince George trustees to sharpen their pencils and submit a proper budget or make their way to the exits.
The province's "budget" next month will not be a working fiscal document for the year ahead, which is what the education ministry expects from school boards, but a campaign piece for May's provincial election.
If the provincial government thinks it's fair to order school boards to come up with the cash for support staff wage increases, then it should be fair of the same provincial government to release a budget next month that is balanced in the world of accounting, not just the world of politics.