A quiet crowd of approximately 20 spectators was on hand Monday night as the School District 20 (SD 20) Board of Trustees met at the Kootenay Columbia Learning Centre in Trail to pass the first two readings of the balanced budget, as is required by the Ministry of Education.
Among the spectators was a group of residents of Blueberry Creek who came to the open meeting hoping the board might re-assess its decision to cut $20,000 in funding from the Blueberry Creek Community School.
Although a number of trustees openly voiced their regret at having to make the decision to re-allocate the CommunityLINK funds that had previously been directed towards the community school, the board stood by its decision to distribute the money between a number of SD 20 schools that had never previously received any of the funds which are targeted towards vulnerable students.
“When we got the long-list of proposed budget cuts I think a lot of us lost some sleep,” trustee Jo-Ann Bursey said at the meeting. “I mean we had to look at decisions to not wash the front of the school for a year where our children go to school every day. But the government holds the purse strings.”
Mickey Kinakin, who was not present for the meeting due to being in Kelowna for medical treatment, was the one trustee who voted against the budget and expressed his opinions in a letter read by trustee Jen Carter.
In his letter, Kinakin objected to the redirection of CommunityLINK funding away from Blueberry Creek and what he stated was the way the budget decisions were made “behind closed doors.”
Greg Luterbach, SD 20 superintendent of schools, said the process of deciding where to cut wasn’t an easy job.
“There is no money targeted towards community schools and there’s been no increase in the LINKS budget for some years to keep up with costs,” Luterbach said Tuesday. “That’s not to say that the community schools aren’t providing a valuable service… but the status quo wasn’t sustainable.”
Luterbach said coming up with the process of developing balanced budgets without increased funding has been a difficult process for some time.
“Last year we needed to find a little over $900,000, the year before it was $1.5 million. When you’re dealing with a $40 million budget and looking at $2,000 line items to find savings you have to know it’s getting tight,” he said. “Some of the decisions are natural but cost pressures like increases to MSP payments or Hydro are outside a board’s control.
“I think most people understand the financial pressure the boards are under, people have seen boards have to close schools or change offices, I think there’s an acknowledgement that there’s only so much the board can do. A lot is dependent on government and Ministry decisions.”