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'Stuff not staff' cuts planned for Coquitlam schools this spring

Coquitlam School Board this week announced a budget shortfall of some $7.5 million, which could mean both cuts implemented in this school year and possible teacher layoffs next fall.

While no formal statement about the shortfall has been made on the website of School District 43, the Coquitlam Teachers' Association has reported in detail on it. CTA President Teresa Grandinetti also spoke with The Tyee.

According to the CTA's latest newsletter, the announcement came at the Coquitlam board's last public meeting on Tuesday, January 15: "Superintendent/Acting Secretary-Treasurer Tom Grant gave a budget update, acknowledging for the first time that the District faces a significant funding shortfall this year. He reviewed potential 'cost recovery' measures to be implemented for the second half of the year, citing his belief that the shortfall can be addressed by cutting 'stuff, not staff.'"

The newsletter cited a school board budget "that overestimated International Ed revenues, overestimated student enrolment, underestimated utility costs, and underestimated principal, teacher, and support staff salary costs.

"Compounding the problem is the fact that the Board chose to rely heavily on enrolment holdback funds from the provincial government, a source of revenue which is contingent on enrolment and which the Board knows has historically been unreliable on a year-year basis."

In an interview with The Tyee, Grandinetti said that while the district's continuing-education division is making money, other revenue sources are not: "Nothing worked."

She also noted that Coquitlam has effectively been punished for creating and living within tight budgets over the years: "We don't have any hidden pots of money; that makes it more severe. We were penalized for being frugal."

The CTA newsletter quotes Grandinetti as being skeptical about the effectiveness of the proposed cuts:

"I really don't believe that they will be able to cut $5 million from the budget with items such as catering and caretaking supplies. And as for the 'stuff' they talk about cutting, teacher release time will be drastically reduced. That's not 'stuff,' that's cutting people -- teachers on call -- who will have fewer work opportunities and less income to make a living."

Grandinetti told The Tyee that the district could face staffing issues next September. While many teachers and support staff routinely receive layoff notices in the spring, those notices are usually recalled before classes start in the fall. "Some layoffs will not be recalled," Grandinetti said.

In an email to The Tyee, Coquitlam school district Manager of Communications Cheryl Quinton provided background information on the cuts:

This year, the district saw an enrolment decrease of 223 students (over that anticipated in the Preliminary Budget), which then resulted in a reduction of revenue. Further grant funding reductions resulted from reduced holdback funding. This, combined with less than anticipated revenues and cost pressures in several areas, has resulted in expenditures exceeding revenues by $7.5 million.

• The district has identified a number of measures to recover up to $5 million of the over-expenditures, but it will require the cooperation of all staff

• Until the end of this school year, the Board is committed to identifying alternatives to reductions that do not include layoffs

• Schools will be required to identify any supply savings

• Some unfilled positions may not be back-filled at this time

• Daytime release time will be drastically reduced and when possible, professional development will be moved to outside of regular school hours

• Reductions will impact all budgets areas – schools, departments and the Board Office.

Asked whether Vancouver school district faces similar cuts, VSB chair Patti Bacchus replied in an email: "Ok for this year after making cuts to balance. Current projected shortfall for 13/14 is $23 million, assuming no increase in prov funding."

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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