Trustees nix longer spring break proposal

Students might not get a two-week spring break next year.

Trustees voted 5-4 against the budget proposal to extend spring break from one week to two weeks – a move that is expected to save about $500,000 – at a special business committee meeting Wednesday.

District staff have put forward a number of possible cuts to make up an estimated $1.4-million shortfall. Once those are debated and endorsed or rejected at the committee level, the budget goes to a regular board meeting for approval.

David Murchie, business committee chairman, said the budget will not be ready for the board to vote on this week as originally planned because trustees only got through about 10 of the 27 proposed strategies.

Debate over the school calendar change – adding the extra five days holiday to spring break – took up about half of last week’s meeting.

Murchie voted against the two-week break because it means the district is essentially providing less service to students and families, even though minutes are added onto each school day to make up for the extra time off, he said.

“I don’t believe that every school is getting benefits from those extra minutes,” he said. “We’re trying to find money in the wrong spot.”

Trustee Jamie Brennan disagreed with the vote against the extended spring break.

“It was frustrating because the added week to spring break, although it’s a hardship for some people, lets us avoid making those deeper cuts,” he said.

The committee decided not to endorse the proposed cut to the therapeutic swim program or reorganization of the budget that provides services to vulnerable students, which would reduce 3.43 child, youth and family support worker positions as well as the hours of community school coordinators to pay for an early literacy project and community school supervisor.

A decision on whether to endorse the proposal to reduce an additional 2.57 child, youth and family support worker positions from the Student Support Services budget was deferred to a later meeting. The proposed reduction of the six support worker positions – separate budget strategies because the positions are funded from two different areas of the district’s budget – would mean elimination of those services at the elementary school level, a proposal that many employees and community members took issue with at a recent public meeting.

Trustees accepted several proposals, including: reducing school-based administrators, education assistants, supplies and equipment budgets, and the early years coordinator position; use of electronic media instead of print for some communications; and eliminating the secondary school staffing supplement for senior courses outside of the regular timetable.

Brennan said trustees are also in favour of maintaining a teacher-librarian ratio of one librarian for every 850 students, but nixed adding more library clerk time to make up for the loss of a part-time teacher-librarian due to declining enrolment.

The business committee resumes budget discussions at a special meeting on Thursday (April 28).