|School trustees peppered with public input|
By Ken Alexander
Around 180 people turned up at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School (PSO) on Feb. 4 to give trustees input on how School District 27 (SD27) should deal with the potential $3.4-million budget deficit for the 2010/11 school year.
The 2 1/2-hour meeting saw everything from a polished PowerPoint presentation regarding the proposed cuts to the French immersion program by Tina Majcher, Canadian Parents for French 100 Mile branch president, to a fiery condemnation of the school district by Buffalo Creek parent Ken Martin.
SD27’s public consultation meeting was not as volatile as it might have been as trustees, at their Jan. 28 regular board meeting, had stepped back from their earlier proposal to help balance the budget by closing Lac la Hache and Buffalo Creek elementary schools and eliminating of elementary French immersion (F.I.) completely.
In a 4-3 split at that same meeting, the board decided to protect the quality of education for the district’s students, which may mean it would have to submit a deficit budget.
During his introduction to the PSO crowd, school board chair Wayne Rodier outlined the outside pressures that caused the budget shortfall and noted it could be more or less than $3.4 million because SD27 won’t know the extent of the education ministry’s funding until March 15.
First presenter, 100 Mile Mayor Mitch Campsall, urged trustees to retain a full F.I. program because it helped attract professionals and investors and their families to the area. He also invited SD27 to send a letter to his council and vowed the District of 100 Mile House would do everything it can to help.
During her presentation, Majcher challenged SD27 staff to tell her how much money would be saved by cutting costs in F.I., but was told that answer would have to put on the SD27’s website because they didn’t have the figures available for the meeting.
Instead of making a percentage cut, she suggested the board should consider split classes and/or remote Internet linking to cut costs and, perhaps, make some revenue by offering the web-based programs to groups outside of the school district.
Five PSO Grade 11 students, who are in the secondary F.I. program, took turns talking about how they had been together since kindergarten and were looking forward to graduating double Dogwood diplomas next year. They asked the board to consider the benefit of bilingualism when seeking employment.
Julie Dewsbury said the board has to look at cutting administration and maintenance costs. “When you look around, you see staff driving around in new vehicles and people are mowing grass in the middle of summer.”
She also warned trustees about the danger of cutting the Reading Recovery program because she felt it would result in reading-challenged children being pushed through the grades until there were problems later on.
Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery (CIRR) president Dianne Stuart echoed those concerns and noted children who are involved in the program “get back on track quickly.”
She added CIRR would be willing to work on finding other ways to deliver the program. “You either pay early or you pay late,” she warned.
Lori Dodds said she was unhappy with the consultation process and felt it was pitting one program against another. “We should be working together to find a way to keep all of these valuable programs.”
Dodds added she thought it would be more productive to have smaller, one-on-one meetings with the board so there could be an exchange of ideas and there would be immediate answers instead of having to wait for them to go up on SD27’s website.
“Your sitting there nodding your heads, but not answering questions. How do we know what’s a good nod and what’s a bad one?”
Former SD27 administrator John Andrews, who facilitated this meeting, said he believed parents would be encouraged to call district staff and trustees for answers to their questions.
He turned to the head table and there were nods of agreement.
Source: 100 Mile House Free Press