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I don’t write much in the forum about school board issues, mostly because I don’t have kids in the New Westminster school system, and there is enough politics in this town to spin anyone’s head without including the twisted and acrimonious history of schools governance. However, I am a casual observer, and I pay school taxes like anyone else, so I am not completely disinterested in the process.

That said, I am happy to hear that there is a more collaborative approach emerging at School District 40, and that the new leadership in staff is not only effective at solving some long-standing issues, but is willing to stick around for a while to see the job done. With one new school taking shape, another breaking ground, and funding (apparently) secured for the third, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the future of the New Westminster School District.

Why cautious? Because the funding issue is still here, and it is not going away. At least in this case, New Westminster is in good company. The Families First government has not quite articulated how we are going to fund the school systems we need to compete in a knowledge economy (at least until we are all rolling in LNG riches). Instead, the Minister is on the road and on the radio telling all of the schools to tighten their belts, because if there is one thing our province cannot afford in these Uncertain Economic Times(tm), it is to prepare our youth for an uncertain future.

I want to emphasize: this is not a New Westminster issue. School district deficits and draconian cuts are province-wide: affecting the fastest-growing school districts as much as the ones losing enrollment; in NDP, BC Liberal, and Conservative strongholds; in the biggest districts and some of the smallest. A short sampling from the news in the last couple of weeks (in no particular order):

School District 5, in the East Kootenay, is suffering from the static provincial budget and aging infrastructure they cannot afford to replace.

School District 20 in the West Kootenay is trying to figure out how to avoid a budget deficit next year, and is looking at various options to cut staff.

School district 23 in Kelowna has no idea how to spread about the various cuts they are going to have to make to get their expenses below their revenue.

School District 37 in Delta is finding an increase in enrollment isn’t enough to offset the systemic long-term underfunding.

School District 39 in Vancouver can’t decide whether to cut athletics, music programs, or to have another spring break in November to stop the bleeding.

School District 41 in Burnaby is metering out the staff cuts, increasing class sizes, and reducing program levels to help manage its ballooning deficit.

School District 42 in Maple Ridge is trying to balance the layoffs of teachers and the layoffs of support staff to decide between quality of education and student safety.

School District 43 in the Tri-Cities is seeing a massive shortfall, in one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the province, and specifically cites a long list of provincial “downloading” of costs.

School district 61 in Victoria, yes even the Province’s Capital doesn’t get away without a serious budget shortfall, is talking about closing schools.

School District 62 in Sooke has cut its deficit by laying off workers and creating split-grade classes.

School District 68 in Nanaimo is facing a $5.4 Million shortfall, and is counting the upcoming layoffs from teaching staff.

School District 69 in Parksville is contemplating which schools to close to deal with their operations deficit.

School District 73 In Kamloops, is in relatively good shape, only trying to find room for a $1 Million shortfall.

…and this is just the start. Our school systems will not be what we want it to be until it is properly funded, but just preserving and persevering is going to take collaboration and cooperation.

If this burgeoning Parent’s Group is what it appears on the face of it (and I was not able to attend their inaugural workshop), we can add them to the many lights that are appearing at the end of the long tunnel.However, I am afraid what we need in our school system is not more voices, but more resources.

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