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Langley teachers, board see tough years ahead

After a tense and heavily attended school-board meeting on Monday night, Langley teachers and trustees remain divided on many issues, but they agree that the next few years will be hard for their schools.

In an interview with The Tyee, Langley board chair Joan Bech said trustees have passed a balanced $150 million budget for 2009-2010. But what happens after that will depend on decisions in Victoria.

“We’ll be engaging in meetings with our partners in education to get feedback,” Bech said. “In two or three weeks we’ll approach Victoria and seek to pay off our deficit over several years.” Langley school district has an $8.2 million deficit that Bech blamed on overspending due to accounting errors.

At the board meeting on Monday night, the Langley Teachers Association made a presentation advising the trustees that teachers had voted no confidence in superintendent Cheryle Beaumont. But a trustee raised a point of order, saying the presentation, as a personnel matter, was not allowable in a public meeting. Bech said she expects the LTA to ask for a meeting to discuss the matter.

Bech told The Tyee that many school districts have deficits due to underfunding. “Losing the facilities grant hurt,” she said. “It cost us $3.2 million and we’ve lost valued CUPE staff.” She estimated that higher MSP premiums, imposed on school boards and other employers, will add $60,000 in costs in the coming year, and the Harmonized Sales Tax will arrive next summer.

LTA president Susan Fonseca told The Tyee that even this year’s budget will see erosion that affects kids in classrooms. “They’re not replacing teachers on leave,” Fonseca said. “So services get cut.” She mentioned a retiring teacher-librarian whose position has not been advertised.

Fonseca said budget erosion would mean the end of education experiences like field trips because it will be too expensive to hire bus drivers. Teachers on call are also likely to suffer, she added. “At the meeting a teacher on call was in tears, saying she couldn’t pay her rent on one or two days’ work every week. She was asking the board, ‘Should I be looking for another job?’”

Asked about how the district would pay off its debt, Fonseca said teaching and learning conditions “will be worse in the next few years,” especially if Langley must eliminate the debt in just a couple of years.

Fonseca expects to meet with trustees and the superintendent on Friday to discuss deficit reduction. “We’ll be professional,” she said.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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