By Sheri Regnier
Child and youth at risk programs hang in the balance as School District 20 (SD20) continues to juggle its final budget allocations for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Three community schools will be feeling the squeeze after the board announced at the Monday night meeting in Trail, its decision to pull over $19,000 from the CommunityLINK budget in order to pay the cost of an elementary counsellor.
“As discussed during the 2012-13 school year, a status quo CommunityLINK program will not be possible for the 2013-2014 school year,” said Kim Williams, director of student support services, in a note to the board. “This is due to reduction in available surplus from previous years.”
This year, the CommunityLINK budget has been reduced to $87,000, a sum to be divvied between students from Greater Trail to Castlegar.
“In the past those funds (or more) have gone to three programs know to many as community schools,” said Greg Luterbach, SD20 superintendent.
Luterbach explained that the funds can go to any services that support vulnerable students, and there are five options for the board to mull over before ultimately deciding on how to spend the money.
Last year, Robson School received $50,000; Blueberry Creek Community School Hub (BCCS) and Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL) were each allotted $25,000.
In Greater Trail, SD20 funds were previously allocated for community literacy programs designed through CBAL to meet specific, local needs.
In jeopardy at BCCS and Robson Elementary are numerous programs which support early childhood development, literacy, child care and family strengthening programs.
However, before the board could vote on the proposed CommunityLINK budget cuts Monday night, trustee Jo-Ann Bursey requested the decision be postponed until after the next Committee of the Whole meeting.
“With the complexity and controversial issues of the community based budget, I think as a board we need to we need to sit down and have a conversation around this,” she said.
Trustee Kim Mandoli seconded Bursey’s motion.
“There is a lot of significant debts and we really need to have a frank conversation before we can open the gates and do whatever it is we need too,” said Mandoli.
Mickey Kinakin, trustee, agreed that further information is required regarding the efficacy of the CommunityLINK program.
“There are profound implications and we need to take our time on this one,” he said.
With consensus from the board, a decision was deferred pending further review at a Committee of the Whole, scheduled for Wednesday, 6 p.m. at Trail Middle School.
Four representatives from BCCS attended the meeting and had an opportunity to address the board during the public question period.
Although the board was not put on the hot seat to answer specific questions, Dr. Rebecca McDonnell, BCCS community liaison and environmental director, expressed her frustration at being blindsided by the board’s proposed cuts to the CommunityLINK program.
“As a community school-person, I walked into work this morning and discovered that this item was on the agenda,” she said.
“I’d like to ask the board to consider how this agenda item was communicated (or not) to the community schools involved,” she said. “This was a large communication glitch I would say.”
McDonnell added that the community wants to be engaged in the conversation on a consultative basis.
“You have all our contact information and we ask that you engage and consult us because we have been providing the school district with a high return on investment for 16 years.”
BCCS offers many free programs, including; 97 children enrolled in its summer reading program; 44 children registered in the Twin Rivers leadership program; 120 kids who have attended Friday night programs; and 52 children registered in the “Blueberry Patch” after school care.
McDonnell said these four programs receive the bulk of its allocated CommunityLINK funding.