Editorial: Put pupils first in school budget

School district budgeting isn’t just about addition and subtraction – it takes some seriously advanced mathematics.

The Nanaimo school district’s preliminary budget, tabled this month, calculated a nightmarish shortfall of $5.4 million. There won’t be any easy choices – trustees basically have to decide between doling out disappointment or dismay. Right away, the board served notice it will consider cutting not only teachers and support staff, but also administrators and trustees, a signal that the pain could be shared equitably.

B.C. has 60 school districts dealing with similar issues and a lot of trustees brainstorming, but unfortunately it takes a lot of nickels and dimes to dent a multimillion-dollar shortfall. Public education is underfunded, but at the same time, throwing money at the problem can only do so much. We need restraint, flexibility and creativity.

We all have our fond or not-so-fond memories of how school used to be back in the old days. Times have changed. Cities have sprawled, families are smaller, students live farther apart, enrolment has declined and for all those reasons, education can’t be delivered with the same economies of scale.

It’s frustrating, during budget time, to talk in terms of ‘delivery of education’ when schools do infinitely more. They’re about interactions and friendships, life lessons, achievement and growth. They’re places to pursue hobbies and interests, arts and culture, sports and recreation. They’re libraries, daycares, hangouts. They must continue to be all of these things.

As the board balances its books, children must be the first consideration and we trust that they will be.

And things will turn out OK. Pupils can handle dog-eared textbooks, outdated computers, long bus rides and occasional gaps in supervision. Kids are tough and they’ll accept school for what it is. We need to be tough, too – suffer these cuts, if we must, and no matter what, never stop teaching, challenging and engaging our kids.

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