BWDSB defeats own budget

Trustees cite lack of information, inadequate funding allocation

By Barb McKay


The Bluewater District School Board of trustees has defeated its 2011 budget, a little more than a week before the provincial deadline.


The budget was turned down in a recorded vote, with five trustees in favour of passing it and five opposed.

Kincardine trustee Jan Johnstone said she could not approve the budget with so little information about how funds would be allocated.


“I take the job very seriously and I didn’t feel that the information presented was enough for me to make an informed decision at that time,” she said. “I voiced grave concerns, prior to June 21 (when the budget meeting was held), about the adequacy of school budget to cover the actual costs of required resources and materials for core curriculum programs due to the Ministry of Education’s new funding fee guidelines.


“Without knowing the actual amounts and allocations provided in school budgets, I wouldn’t know if student needs would be met to ensure excellence in education and student well-being.”


Johnstone said she was provided with information during a business committee meeting, but it was not nearly enough to make an informed decision. She said staff was able to point her to sections of the budget document where money could be found, but she needed to see a more complete breakdown of where money was being allocated.


“I need to see it as a whole and then broken down for each school to be able to judge whether this money was adequate,” Johnstone said.


Vice-chair John Chapman expressed concern about how cuts and layoffs in both elementary and secondary school could have a serious impact on the quality of education students receive. He said the funding formula, which uses student enrolment numbers to determine how much money is allocated, is flawed and is not being addressed.


“It’s a disadvantage for rural schools as opposed to urban centres,” he said. “Some of the cuts we’ve had to consider are very negative.”


Chapman said cuts to special programming, such as the suspension of the tech centres, prevent students from learning skills that benefit them later in life. He isn’t convinced the centres won’t be axed in a later budget.


For Kevin Larsen, trustee for Saugeen Shores and the Township of Arran-Elderslie, the decision to vote to pass the budget was not an easy one.


“It was with a lot of reluctance and with concern over a fine,” he said.


Larsen said there are some fitting questions that need to be answered, particularly around the province’s regulation to not allow school boards to use supplemental fees.


“If the government doesn’t have money and the school board isn’t allowed to raise money, how will programs be funded?” he asked.


The BWDSB budget is roughly $200 million and the board will see cuts of roughly $4 million. Larsen said about three per cent, or approximately $6 million, of the school board’s funds are from income raised through student fees and fundraising from home and school association.


Larsen said what’s most disappointing is what seems like a lack of interest from Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch and Huron-Bruce MPP Carol Mitchell to address education funding, including how funds are allocated.


Marilyn McComb, trustee for the Townships of Georgian Bluffs and Chatsworth also voted in favour of passing the budget.


“I thought it would pass,” she said. “When we were in the business committee no one was enthused by the budget, but most seemed to indicate they would vote for it.”


McComb said it’s clear that the school board needs more money, but there just isn’t money to allocate.

“I do not like cuts to SALEP (Supervised Alternative Learning for Excused Pupils) or the tech centres,” she said, “but I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve come to realize that you only get so much money and have to work with it.”


Johnstone sent out an email to fellow trustees calling for a special meeting to discuss the budget. The meeting will be held June 29 in Chesley. The budget deadline is June 30.


“We’re not prepared to break the law, which we would be if we submitted a budget with a deficit,” Chapman said.


McComb said it’s difficult to imagine what could be changed within the budget to better allocate funds or prevent cuts.


“I don’t think much will change, I can’t think what could change,” she said. “I don’t think some trustees realize what the repercussions would be if we didn’t submit a balanced budget.”


McComb noted that if the school board delivers a deficit to the province, the Ministry of Education could step in to balance the budget it own way, which could mean further cuts to programs and school closures.