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School districts facing nearly $63m in new costs

John Malcolmson, a national researcher for CUPE, says there's nearly $63 million in new costs being downloaded to B.C. school boards in 2013/14. But there will be no additional funding to help them cover the costs.

The costs include an increase in Medical Services Plan premiums, covering the BC Public School Employers Association budget, half of the teachers' pension plan fees, and BC Hydro fee increases. Malcolmson also includes a ministry decision to plut $15.6 million from suplus funding towards next year's Annual Facility Grant (AFG) as a cost download. Normally surplus money is distributed to schools through holdback funding later in the school year.

He believes the move is political: "The bottom line for this is next year, when whomever is government looks at paying the AFG, they've already paid $15.6 million of it, so they will have to pay $15.6 million less out of next year's budget, which basically has the bottom line impact of reducing the provincial deficit," he told The Tyee.

Malcolmson cites boards that have already begun announcing funding shortfalls as evidence. Some of the funding gap predictions include $1.8 million for the North Okanagan-Shuswap School Disctrict; $3.5 million for the Delta School District; and $7.91 million for the Vancouver School Board.

"We're going to see significant and very deep cuts and layoffs of people as we move forward into next year, and that's ultimately going to mean reduced levels of services and supports that flow to the kids and the schools," he said.

The ministry maintains education funding is at its highest level ever. But Malcolmson says that's a misleading statement: per-pupil funding has continued to rise, but other funding has not.

The NDP revealed its election education funding promises last Thursday, committing $265 million over the next three years, on top of what the Liberal government has already budgeted.

But the funding is specifically for hiring more teachers, education assistants, counsellors, and librarians.

"I think the NDP should be looking at doing a significant review of the funding formula for schools, because the funding formula has become so disconnected from the on ground reality of costs and cost pressures that it really needs a major overhaul."

But restructuring the way government funds education means making some tough decisions, including re-examining what British Columbians want from their education system.

"The mandate of the system tends to expand and grow over time with new expectations and obligations; maybe we need to have a hard look at that, to say are we asking too much of our schools? Or if we are, what are the things that are currently done that we're not going to want schools to do?" said Malcolmson.

"Those are difficult conversations, but maybe that needs to happen, too, otherwise it tends to be a continuous increase in expectation and a less than continuous increase in the level of resources that are provided to meet the expectations on the ground.

Editor's note: To read the full version of Katie Hyslop’s Tyee story about the new costs facing school boards, and to see the accompanying infographics, click here

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