The support for Cowichan School District 79 Board of Education’s decision to pass a restorative budget has been flowing in over the past week.
The Lake Cowichan Gazette has received personal letters from local residents as well as emails sent to the board from trustees of other districts, teachers, and the Nanaimo, Duncan and District Labour council.
The letters of support are in answer to a call sent out by the Cowichan Board of Education on May 24. In the statement, the board states that the district needs $3.8 million in additional funds to rebuild programs and services that have been lost due to cuts that have occurred over the last decade.
“The trustees who are taking this path are acting on our November election pledge to challenge the provincial government’s squeeze on our public schools,” the statement reads. “We are well aware Victoria could choose to appoint a ministry trustee to continue the cutbacks. However, we believe there is plenty of opportunity to reach an agreement with Victoria and we are ready to sit with the Ministry of Education to further this aim. We are hopeful the provincial government will recognize our restoration budget is a measured response to bleak learning conditions created by under-funding.”
Many of the letters sent in support of the restorative budget point to the cuts in funding and the gradual loss of programs. Yet many take on the issue of democracy and the need for open dialogue between boards and the residents within their districts.
Rob Hinton, a bus driver for SD79 writes, “I, as a bus driver, see daily and realize the importance of an open public school system that is accessible to all citizens here in the Cowichan Valley. To remove the trustees from their publicly elected positions is an attack on pure Canadian democracy.”
Duncan Brown, an SD79 trustee from Lake Cowichan says that he is pleased to see this kind of support rolling in. “In some ways we’re not surprised,” he says. “Other school districts are in a similar situation.”
Even if George Abbott, the B.C. Minister of Education, decides to remove the board, Brown says the district will still be dealing with the same issues. “There will be needs that are not being met.”
The board is currently preparing to meet with the ministry in the hopes that a solution can be found, but Brown is not optimistic that they will be able to meet directly with the minister. “The minister said he would make sure his staff are available to talk.” He expects that during this meeting there will be nothing new.
Abbott confirmed this, saying that the board would be meeting with ministry representatives who would be explaining the ministry’s position and the flow of government funding.
The board plans to bring the letters of support they have been receiving to this meeting and Brown says that they will all help to support the board’s position and give focus to issues that need to be addressed.
However, Mr. Abbott states that the letters will not make any difference. “Every school board in the province has an obligation, under the school act, to provide a balanced budget,” he says. “I expect the board will provide a balanced budget by the end of June.”
Brown states that the budget will be balanced “as soon as the ministry gives us $3.8 million.”
Abbott says he has been through this once before with the Saanich school board in 2011. He states that when this board came to better understand the flow of funding, there was a difference in their thinking. “It appeared that when they understood they elected to provide a balanced budget.”
He states that funding for the school district has gone up each year, while the student population has continued to drop.
Brown takes issue with this, asking why then has the district had to continue to cut programs, if funding has increased?
The school board will be holding a rally in front of the school board office in Duncan on June 6, starting at 4 p.m. This rally will be addressing two issues: support for the restorative budget and the opposition of the removal of duly elected officials. The public is invited to attend.