Stephanie Ryan: Surrey school board should use budget to send message to province
Surrey’s school district faces the same incredibly daunting challenges faced by school districts across this province, as a lack of education funding by the provincial government threatens the most basic of programs.
But because Surrey is the largest school district in the province and one of the few that is still growing (enrolment increased by nearly three percent last year), Surrey’s students are going to feel the impacts of cuts even more intensely.
Confronted with a budget shortfall of between $15 million and $20 million for the next school year, no program or service to students will be safe.
Surrey’s trustees have done a good job of keeping administrative costs low, and it is widely acknowledged that there is no “fat” left to cut in next year’s budget. But they are now in the unenviable position of having to choose which already-disadvantaged children have to go without.
So why is the financial outlook so dismal?
For one thing, Surrey has received no new capital funding for building schools from Victoria since the 2005-06 school year, despite experiencing continued growth, both in new residential development and in secondary suites.
Surrey is being forced to deal with its chronic overcrowding by adding more and more portables to school playgrounds, at a cost of $70,000 per year in leasing charges. These funds come straight out of the school district’s operating budget, money that should be earmarked for staffing and educational programs.
On top of the lack of capital funding, the provincial government clawed back the Annual Facilities Grant money this year (more than $10 million a year for Surrey), meaning there is no money available for ongoing maintenance at older deteriorating schools. In a few cases, scheduled repairs to older schools had already been paid for by the district when the AFG money was taken back by the province.
The rest of the projected deficit is comprised of the additional costs the HST will bring (around $3 million) and salary increases the province negotiated.
Finally, per-pupil funding has not been increased for the past six years, so as the school district continues to grow, its dollars per student are not adjusted for inflation, putting it at a disadvantage. And of course the district is scrambling to find space for hundreds of new students as full-day kindergarten is phased in over the next two years, meaning even more money for more portables out of the operating budget.
Without adequate funds, all programs and services in Surrey schools will suffer. Class sizes will grow, regulations on class composition will be ignored, and programs for students with special needs may be eliminated entirely. Meal programs at inner-city schools may also be eliminated.
The board really has two options here.
They could roll over and do nothing. They could be acquiescent as the province continues to erode public education bit by bit, until we no longer have a viable public education system.
Or—instead—the Surrey board of education could submit a deficit budget to the province, which they are technically prohibited to do. Surrey’s district parent advisory committee has come out in support of this option. In fact, many school districts—including School District 27 in Cariboo-Chilcotin—are considering submitting a “needs” budget to the province, to make the point that there is nothing left to trim within the education system.
The school district could be run for the upcoming year based on the current year’s budget. When the money runs out, the school district could, as a last resort, close the schools early and force the province to do the right thing and step in to fund the budget shortfall it created.
Unless the board of education wishes to be compliant in the eventual destruction of the public school system in Surrey, it needs to stand up and be heard—now.
They should insist on submitting a deficit or “needs” budget, and refuse to become participants in the dismantling of the school system.
Stephanie Ryan is the president of the Surrey Civic Coalition.