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School district facing budget shortfall

School District 57 faces a $700,000 shortfall after three meetings by its budget consultation committee in the last two months to cut away at a projected $3.3 million.
School District 57 board chair Tony Cable.

School District 57 faces a $700,000 shortfall after three meetings by its budget consultation committee in the last two months to cut away at a projected $3.3 million.

"We have an additional challenge and we still have further work to do," said Brenda Hooker, who is chair of the finance committee, at Tuesday's board meeting.

"There's no reductions anywhere that will not have an impact (on students)," Hooker said. "We don't have any more suggestions."

Last year the board pulled $3.2 million from its surplus, which now sits at $6.6 million.

Tim Bennett expressed frustration that the board could have had a balanced budget were it not for the near same amount in additional cuts expected by the provincial government.

The board learned in March that it would need to cut $727,000 in administrative services for the current budget.

Over two years, B.C. schools will be asked to cut $54 million in that category.

Groups involved in the consultation process included the Prince George District Teachers' Association, the District Parent Advisory Council, Prince George Principals and Vice-Principals' Association, exempt staff, trustees and the district's senior administration.

Hooker listed a number of problems that the district faces, including the recruitment and retention of teachers, an ongoing structural deficit, and some administration staff like vice principals who haven't seen a wage increase since 2009.

The consultation committee came away with a number of suggestions for the board, including that it again call on the government to follow the provinces' own recommendations from its select standing committee on finance and government services to better fund public education

"We really need additional funding to properly address student needs," Hooker said.

The committee also recommend that the district create an education sustainability committee "to monitor and assess enrolment changes, school capacities, and to address emergent issues that affect school district operations."

Hooker said the group also suggested revenue opportunities be pursued, like advertising, leasing vacant spaces and charging parents school bus user fees.

"Some districts have done that throughout the province," she said.

Chairperson Tony Cable said the work of the partner groups and the finance committee has been difficult.

"It's gut wrenching," said Cable.

The board of education is expected to consider its recommendations and other measures to balance the budget at a public meeting on May 12.

The board also unanimously passed a motion to send the Ministry of Education a letter denouncing Bill 11, which was in second reading at legislature on Tuesday.

"Bill 11 has significant implications for public education and the importance of local autonomy and local decisions," said Sharel Warrington, who brought the motion forward.

"Bill 11 if passed is a significant erosion of public education which is the heart of a democratic society," said Warrington, adding it provides power to the minister that "could restrict a district's ability to make decisions related to shared services that would be in the best interests of the district."

"The Ministry of Education does not seem to be listening to any of their educational partners or public in regard to the concerns about Bill 11," Hooker added.

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