Concern raised over school budget cuts

NANAIMO – More than 200 show up to public meeting Thursday to give school trustees feedback on proposed budget cuts.

Teacher-librarian Tammy Reynolds speaks to school trustees about the proposal to close the District Resource Centre at the old Dufferin Crescent school site. Trustees listened to about two dozen presentations from parents and district employees on proposed budget cuts Thursday evening.

Teacher-librarian Tammy Reynolds speaks to school trustees about the proposal to close the District Resource Centre at the old Dufferin Crescent school site. Trustees listened to about two dozen presentations from parents and district employees on proposed budget cuts Thursday evening.

Emotional parents and school district employees were among more than 200 people who showed up to a public meeting Thursday evening to give trustees feedback on proposed budget cuts.

Nanaimo school district is facing a $4.7-million shortfall in its 2013-14 budget and last week, staff presented trustees with about two dozen proposed cuts that would help balance the books.

If implemented, the cuts would result in a loss of 10 teaching positions and about eight support workers.

Cuts include closing the District Resource Centre at the old Dufferin Crescent school site; moving English-stream students at Quarterway and Davis Road elementary schools to neighbouring schools; moving junior learning alternative students back to catchment schools; and eliminating positions, including: the gifted/enrichment resource teacher, two behaviour resource teachers, the safe schools coordinator, the early years coordinator and two caretakers.

Of the two dozen presentations trustees heard Thursday evening, about half a dozen were from Nanaimo-area parents and educators; the remainder were parents from Davis Road speaking out, sometimes emotionally, about the proposal to move English-track students from the school.

Quarterway parents Leonard Seigler and Lance Martin were distressed about the proposal to move English students to neighbouring schools.

“We’re asking these kids to give up their teachers, their friends and everyone they’ve been accustomed to knowing,” said Seigler, adding many parents cannot afford cars and moved to the Quarterway neighbourhood because they can easily walk with their children to school every day.

Martin said English-stream parents at Quarterway don’t feel that their children are harmed by split classes – English enrolment at the school is expected to be under 100 students next fall – because children learn at different levels, and the move would inconvenience parents and cause unnecessary stress for students.

Kelly Dunaway, general vice-president of CUPE Local 606, the union that represents support workers, said the morale of his members has hit an all-time low as they are seeing money spent on consultants and a new logo while support worker jobs are being eliminated.

He said the proposed cuts to caretakers came as a surprise to union officials given a recent review of that department recommended that current staffing levels be maintained.

Dunaway also addressed a recent trustee request to look into a two per cent wage decrease for all non-unionized staff, which includes senior management, administrators and trustees – staff found that the wage decrease would result in savings of about $180,000, but that it would constitute a breach of contract.

“We hear so much from upper management regarding how they are here for our students,” he said. “Yet, when presented with an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is, they cite legal ramifications as to why they cannot do this.”

Justin Green, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, told trustees that any cuts to teaching staff will not allow for adequate support for students.

“Teachers are at the tipping point – we already are past it,” he said. “I’m asking you to have second thoughts, deliberate, make amendments and lobby the government. But do not revisit the same old budget cutting strategies.”

A contingent of teacher-librarians implored trustees to keep the District Resource Centre.

Tammy Reynolds said many schools do not have the technology required to find online or digital alternatives to the resources in the centre – some still rely on a TV and VCR – so this proposal could create have and have-not schools.

“We need resources and books in the hands of our kids today, not waiting for a viable replacement one day,” she said, adding that sharing is cheaper.