On Wednesday, May 16, board members for School District 79 passed a deficit budget with a vote of 5-4.
Chairwoman Eden Haythornthwaite and the other trustees who voted in favour of the budget are still holding out hope that they can open up a dialogue with the Ministry of Education. However, Education Minister George Abbot told the Cowichan News Leader Thursday morning that he is ready to remove the board because of this vote.
“I fully expect they will balance their budget by June 30. This is not a negotiation with the province. We are making it very clear to them what they have to do.”
The resulting budget requires an additional $3.7 million, or $462 per student in Cowichan, from the province.
Haythornthwaite and the other trustees on the board have passed a motion to push for another meeting with the ministry. Duncan Brown, a board trustee, says the board needs community support to “give the ministry some pause about removing a democratically elected representation.”
To that end, the board has started a campaign to rally public support. They have talked about ideas such as forming a campaign committee and asking parents and the public to write letters to the editors of local papers to voice their opinion on the matter of public education funding.
When asked if this board is supported in its move by other boards in the province, Haythornthwaite said there is scattered support from individual trustees, but most boards are watching what is happening with District 79.
These trustees, says Haythornthwaite, are in a minority status. “Victoria, for example,” adds Brown, “has four trustees that would be in favour of a restorative budget, and five that would be opposed.”
“If we’re able to negotiate with the ministry and secure some of the resources we need to meet our challenges, that would benefit everybody in the province,” adds Haythornthwaite. “So to me, all boards should be watching this carefully.”
Abbott told the Cowichan News Leader on Thursday morning, “There are 60 school districts in this province. There is only one that is claiming they’re unable to balance their budget, and even their own superintendent and secretary-treasurer are saying very clearly and emphatically to their own board that there is a viable option to balance the budget.”