In response to May 25 letter to the editor: “Please explain how cutting knee-level literacy programs benefits ‘kids in the classroom'” (Campbell River Mirror, May 24, 2022)
A recent letter to the editor published May 25 contained incorrect information and accusations that my fellow administrators and I would like to correct about the School District 72 2022-2023 budget development process.
School District 72 had a difficult budget development process as we faced a $2.1 million deficit for the 2022-23 school year. And that follows this year’s budget which included a deficit of $3.1 million.
Our board, like many across the province, is struggling with deficits due to pandemic-related costs, inflation and other unfunded cost pressures. The only way for districts to outpace inflation is to increase enrollment (more students move into the community) because the amount of funding per student has remained the same. This puts boards in a very difficult position as they are legally required to present a balanced budget.
Through careful fiscal management by this and previous councils, the district has been able to avoid budget cuts for several years now by offsetting deficits through annual levies on surpluses. Unfortunately, cost increases have exceeded the district’s surplus and there simply isn’t enough surplus left to continue this practice.
Considering budget cuts is never easy, as every part of our system ultimately impacts student learning and school experiences. We’ve asked senior management to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible and to continue supporting the values of the strategic plan, but that doesn’t mean we can completely avoid any impact.
It is true that salaries and benefits have increased and represent 92% of the district’s costs, and with this large portion of our budget set aside for salaries and benefits by contract, there is not much wiggle room left. However, salaries did not increase by $10 million as claimed.
Since 2018-19, teacher salaries have increased by $3.2 million, with most of the increase due to a negotiated 2% annual salary increase and the board’s addition of several new positions, including middle school counselors and native education supports. Salaries for teachers and support staff are provincially negotiated contracts and increases are funded by the province.
The number one priority of the district’s strategic plan is to improve student achievement and literacy. This remains something to which we are deeply attached and the assertion that the literacy program has been “gutted” is, frankly, incorrect.
When looking at budget recommendations that impact the literacy program, there is a total net reduction of approximately $100,000 and that is only a small fraction of the $400,000 in additional funding that has provided by the council to improve literacy two years ago and other district resources committed to support day-to-day literacy.
The district had three literacy coordinators; we will eliminate two of these positions and retain a literacy coordinator position. Budget recommendations also include just under $200,000 to continue improving literacy programs in schools. These funds could be used for programs, additional supports or staff, but the use will be determined in partnership with our literacy working group.
We have also retained literacy leaders in three of our schools that have been identified as having the greatest need – Cedar, Pinecrest and Penfield. We need to become more focused with the funding we have, but that doesn’t mean literacy is no longer a priority.
Field trips have not been removed and schools will still be able to take advantage of the learning opportunities they provide. Since COVID has prevented schools from doing field trips for the past two years, these funds have gone unused for many schools. Rather than giving all schools another annual allocation, we will be looking for schools to use funds still available from last year.
It was also stated that the Healthy Schools Framework was not made available to the board prior to budget considerations and yet it was presented at the May 3 public board meeting and a copy was released. on the district website on our reports and publications page.
The school board is committed to developing a mental health and wellness framework in response to the ever-increasing rates of reported mental health issues among students. Coming out of the pandemic, these rates will only continue to rise, which is why the mental health framework continues to be important work that cannot wait.
The components of this framework are to identify key content and curriculum areas where mental health can be a priority, to build the capacity of our staff, to work to reduce stigma in our schools around mental health issues and strengthen partnerships with community organizations.
There will be an operational plan that will accompany the framework that will identify goals, targets and timelines and this plan will be reviewed annually to address emerging concerns. This plan is still being developed and will be the work of the Mental Health Coordinator. There are opportunities for external grants and funding for mental health initiatives and the district will access them whenever possible.
The school board believes in transparency and invites anyone interested in district operations to regularly attend public board meetings, either in person or live via the link posted on the district’s website.
Meeting recordings are also available on the district’s YouTube channel and a written summary of council meetings is shared on the district’s Facebook and Twitter page.
We welcome every opportunity to provide more information about our budget process and hope this information helps dispel some possible misconceptions.
School District 72 School Board President
Campbell River School District 72 Education Funding