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Ministry unloads insurance premiums onto school districts

School districts were hit with more financial bad news on Friday when the provincial government laid the responsibility for paying property insurance premiums at their feet.

The Ministry of Education sent a letter to all district boards on Friday, May 13, informing them that due to "funding pressures" the ministry would no longer be able to cover the cost of each district's insurance premiums for loss replacements as of July 1. Instead each district is required to contribute to a $3 million loss pool, the amount they pay to be determined by the cost of new facilities required in the district, and the deductible payable by each district will rise from $3,000 to $10,000.

"I appreciate the added pressure this will create for school district budgets, and I assure you this decision has not been made lightly. Your understanding is appreciated," says Doug Stewart, director of the ministry's Capital Management Branch, in the letter issued to the districts. Stewart says the decision was made after recent consultation with the British Columbia Association of School Officials executive and members.

The Vision Vancouver members of the Vancouver School Board were not appreciative, however, as indicated in a press release on Sunday calling on Education Minister George Abbott to reverse the decision.

"In Vancouver, we just approved a balanced budget with $7 million in spending and staff reductions. Now we must find somewhere to cut to pay our $291,000 share of the premium, which until now was a provincial responsibility," says Board Chair Patti Bacchus in the release.

"We are also in the process of calculating the impact and the increased deductible, and we expect that to be considerable."

According to replacement costs calculated by the Ministry, Vancouver will have to pay the highest premiums at $291,285.27, followed closely by Surrey at $243,147.46. Central Coast will have the lowest payment at $4,259.79.

Districts across the province have already been voicing their opposition to what they see as government underfunding of the public school system: last month the Saanich School District went against Ministry rules by submitting a needs-based, unbalanced budget that added $2,828,000 of items to fund, including support for Aboriginal students and those with special needs.

School boards have also voiced their discontent over government requirements to purchase carbon offsets from the province's Pacific Carbon Trust, which in turn uses the money to purchase offsets from private companies such as EnCana, a natural gas producer. Last year the Greater Victoria School District shelled out $170,000 for carbon offsets, while the Vancouver district spent $405,725.

Katie Hyslop reports on Education for the Tyee Solutions Society.

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