$1.7M cut from school budget

12 teachers hired full-time, but other areas slashed, says district superintendent

The Sooke School District will be reducing student aide services this year after $1.7 million worth of cuts were made to its annual operating budget last week.

The reductions include cutting “non-enrolling” school staff, such as a district principal, a vice principal, several educational assistants and librarians, school coordinators and councillors, besides numerous school programs in the district, which encompasses Sooke, Colwood and Langford.

Superintendent Jim Cambridge said the cuts wasn’t a matter of choice or for making more money, it was just about paying the bills.

“It wasn’t for any extra cash … it’s because we weren’t provided with enough money to run the district right now,” Cambridge said.

“There’s been a lot of pressures on the district, and those include some costs that were not realizing any value from the government.”

Some of the biggest cuts were to programs such as Choices and Elements, which helps students with behavioral problems, learning disabilities and other existing health conditions, of which eight non-enrolling staff were removed, including speech and language pathologists, as well as a youth and family counsellor and an education assistant.

English as a second language education assistant hours were also reduced by 25 per cent, including a help desk person.

The district has hired 12 full-time teachers, however, as a means to cope with the high influx of students.

Cambridge pointed out that part of the reason the cuts were made was because of the added cost of increased salaries, medical premiums and utility bills.

This year, Canada Pension Plans cost $140,000, group benefits $230,000, hydro, $35,000, and MSP increases were $30,000. This is on top of a provincial clawback of administrative savings, totally up to $910,000.

Among the costs was the integration of a more modern Internet infrastructure (called the New Generation Network) which is being implemented across the province, which each district paid $423,000 for the cost of installation.

Still, Cambridge said the cuts were “unfortunate.”

“It’s a difficult time, nobody likes to make cuts. The irony is that because we are a growing school district, we’re hiring more staff, but yet we’re making cuts,” he said.

As for supplementing the loss of staff for special education programs and student aides, Cambridge noted this is something that will be dealt with in time.

“We may have to add support in as it goes along if kids are really struggling, and certainly the board would be interested in restoring that kind of program in the future if they get funding,” he said.

Sooke Teachers Association president Ian Johnson called the cuts “egregious” and that the impact to non-enrolling educational staff is “intolerable.”

“In our district they have cut $816,000 of teacher staffing heading into next year,” he said. “We are already at tremendous strain, asking teachers to deliver on a promise is getting stretched. We cannot do the job we are being asked to do.”

Johnson said the cuts just add more pressure on the existing system, regardless of 12 more teachers joining the fold, creating a “health and wellness issue.”

“It’s a health and wellness issue for our students, who are not getting the services they need to be successful in school, it’s the stress and anxiety the teachers feel when they can’t do the job they’re asking to do,” he said, adding that by cutting into services that help students succeed, that added stress will spill into the classrooms.

“Those stresses, those strains, those challenges are borne by kids who now we can’t help because we don’t even have the non-enrolling specialists who provide that kind of support.”

The Sooke School District is the fastest-growing school district in the province, with an operating budget of $94,775,109.