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As the 2011-12 school year winds down, earlier this week teachers and parents were getting wound up.
Not since the controversy surrounding Grade 6 French Immersion classes has the Kootenay Lake School District boardroom seen a packed house. On Tuesday night, it was once again standing room only.
At issue was the board’s budget for the upcoming school year which will see several teachers lose their jobs and service levels drop throughout the region. During an emotionally charged two hours, teachers and parents let trustees know they are worried about what lies ahead for students.
Once the meeting broke, those who took the time to cram into the Johnstone Road board office were left feeling empty. School board chair Mel Joy offered little hope.
“When the majority of trustees vote for a decision, it’s made,” she said. “This is the hardest budget I’ve ever been a part of. There isn’t a decision we make at this table that doesn’t affect somebody in the district, but we still have to make those hard choices.”
But there are other choices.
Currently the Cowichan Valley School Board is risking the wrath of the provincial government. The law requires that school boards pass balanced budgets. In a 5-4 vote a few weeks ago, the Vancouver Island trustees passed a $3.7 million deficit budget to avoid cutting services.
Education minister George Abbott has told the trustees they will be fired by June 30. Bolstered by raucous supporters and BCTF president Susan Lambert, the board is refusing to back down. They are willing to be fired.
We’re not saying this is the course of action our local school board should take, but too often trustees throw up their hands and say “we’ve done our best and our hands are tied.” Ultimately elected trustees have very little control when it comes to the bottom line. Unlike city council, they have no power to raise taxes to sustain or improve services. They are handed their envelope of cash from Victoria and told to deal with it.
It begs the question: Is an elected body that is left powerless when it comes to budget decisions really an effective form of governance?