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Saanich school district wants $3.2 million to restore programs

Saanich school district says it needs an additional $3.2 million to restore student programs and services that have been cut in the past three years.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender says funding has gone up while enrolment has dropped.

Saanich school district says it needs an additional $3.2 million to restore student programs and services that have been cut in the past three years.

The school board and its partners, including unions and parents, have signed a joint letter calling on Education Minister Peter Fassbender to return the district’s budget to 2011-12 levels.

Board chairwoman Victoria Martin said the $3.2 million is over and above money the district has lost due to declining enrolment.

“We’re providing good services in Saanich, but we don’t have the ability to respond to all the needs the way we used to,” she said.

A report by district secretary-treasurer Monica Schulte shows that the district has cut $4.5 million in the past three years. When adjusted for declining enrolment, the district still needs another $3.2 million to provide the same level of service it did in 2011-12, the report says.

“While overall funding to school districts from the Ministry of Education may have increased over the last number of years, this increase has not been sufficient to cover increased costs,” the letter to Fassbender states.

The letter notes, for instance, that students’ social and emotional needs are often left unmet because the district has had to cut counselling time and increase caseloads.

In addition, the district is struggling to meet the demands of special needs students, English language learners and aboriginal students.

Fassbender issued a statement Friday saying that total funding to school districts will top $5 billion next year — $1.2 billion more per year since 2001. At the same time, enrolment has dropped by 75,000 students, he said.

“In the Saanich school district, operating funding for next school year will be an estimated $62.3 million,” he said.

“This is an increase of more than $9 million compared to 2000-01, over a period when local enrolment has dropped by more than 1,300 students.”

But Mark Skanks, president of the Saanich Teachers’ Association, said Fassbender’s comments about increased funding are misleading.

“Lost in that rhetoric is that what increases there are, in an aggregate sense, haven’t kept up with the costs,” Skanks said.

He noted that the government has repeatedly failed to cover inflation, higher utility bills, rising Medical Service Plan premiums and, in some cases, even wage hikes.

“All of those costs have to be borne by the boards and the ultimate result is fewer resources and services available to kids,” Skanks said. “It’s a testament to how fantastic a district we are … that we’ve managed to maintain such a good school system in spite of that. But we can’t let misinformation continue.”

Saanich trustee and former board chairman Wayne Hunter expressed concern that student test scores could be affected by ongoing cuts. “There’s no guarantee that scores that happened in the past are going to be bettered in the future unless there are appropriate services for those kids,” he said.

Saanich joins a number of other districts calling on Fassbender to restore lost services. The Greater Victoria school board sent Fassbender a letter last month saying it requires another $4.97 million to do its job properly.

Board chairwoman Edith Loring-Kuhanga said the money would pay for more speech-language pathologists, counsellors, learning-support teachers and teacher-librarians.

“We urge the government to embrace their obligation to fully fund public education to ensure that the diverse learning needs of our students are met,” she wrote.

Sooke school board chairwoman Wendy Hobbs estimated the shortfall in her district at $4.4 million in her needs-budget letter to the province.

— With files from Jeff Bell

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