BURNABY – Budget woes in B.C. school districts are on the minds of school support workers from across the province. At the top of the “to-do” list is putting pressure on Education Minister Shirley Bond to provide adequate funding, and in particular, to release holdback funds that amount to more than $45 million for the coming year.
“Across the province, school trustees are being asked to make impossible decisions – and we are seeing a sell-off of public assets, school closures, cuts to services, and the layoff of highly qualified support staff. It is shameful at a time when our province is in good financial shape,” says Barry O’Neill, president of the BC division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“We know the long-term fix is to overhaul the funding formula, and government should work with education stakeholders to do that. But right now, it makes no sense to have Victoria sitting on $45 million in holdback funds while schools, staff and trustees scramble to deal with funding crises,” says O’Neill.
O’Neill calls on Minister Bond to explain her government’s decision to no longer release holdback funds. The “holdback” is a portion of the annual allocation to districts that is held in reserve until actual student counts and other data are known in the fall. Until 2006-07 – when the province made a quiet decision to release only half of the promised holdback funds to districts, leaving a $22 million gap – holdback funds were regularly released to all districts. Now, districts are hesitant to count on getting any of the 2007-08 holdback, which is equivalent to about one per cent of district budgets.
Joe Badali, who coordinates CUPE’s 24,000 member K-12 sector, says that boards should budget to fully use all holdback funds dedicated to their district for the coming year and should demand the portion they were denied in 2006-07.
“We are the front line workers who provide special education, maintenance, cleaning and administration services. We keep schools clean and students safe. We help to create a positive learning environment. Unfortunately we are also on the front line when schools need to cut costs. A high quality education for all students relies on safe, clean, well-run schools and properly resourced classrooms. Government needs to deal with this funding crisis so that every part of the system gets the support it needs,” says Badali.
Contact: Barry O’Neill, CUPE BC president: 604.291.9119
Roseanne Moran, CUPE Communications 604.291.1940