Budget time at Bluewater School Board
by Sandy Lindsay

April 1, 2015


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No matter how the pie is sliced, there is not going to be enough money to go around when it comes to the Bluewater School Board budget for 2015 - 2016 without some major 'adjustments'.

At the budget meeting held Tuesday night (Mar. 31) at the Board's Education Centre in Chesley, the Trustees and staff were looking for public input into the budget process. Unfortunately, the public did not attend.

Given the funding formula set by the Province, school boards have little leeway when it comes to funds.  The Ministry of Education ergo the provincial government is looking at reducing education spending over the next three  years by up to $500Million in order to meet its promised elimination of the deficit by 2017.

Approximately two-thirds of funding to school boards is based on the number of students in the seats which doesn't bode well for rural schools.

Three delegation presentations were given to the Trustees and none of the presenters was happy.

Penny Huettlin, (Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, Office Professionals & Technicians) suggested that trustees and administration go out into the field and speak to school office staff  and members to better understand the impact of cuts.

Penny Huettlin

 "I can tell you," said Huettlin, "The stress that school and admin centre staff are feeling is off the chart. You need to make sure that employees are paid for the work they do and there should not be an expectation that people work for free. Right now, many do not take lunches or break, they come in early and stay late and do not get paid for that time."

Betty-Jo Raddin (Ontario Teachers' Federation) had some very blunt comments when it came to cuts and student enrolment. 

"Last year," she said, "a significant number of secondary teachers were laid off because the board projected a decline of 8.8!.  Instead, the number is up this year and, now, we don't have those teachers."

She also questioned funds that had been provided for classroom consultants and could have been used for direct support for students and teachers.  "Instead, a portion of the funding was used for the salaries and benefits for three assistants to the three superintendents in the school board administration."

"The funding formula does not work for rural Ontario and needs to be redesigned so that it is based on students' needs and not simply on enrolment.  There are schools that are community hubs and if closed will have a negative impact on small communities.  We encourage the Board of Trustees to lobby the Ministry for more resources for rural areas."

Raddin also pointed out that with 11 secondary school that had over 500 full-time teachers, the same 11 schools now have 360 teachers.  "You cannot make staffing cuts of this magnitude without it having a negative impact on programming."

She also said that there has been a significant reduction in spending on basics such as textbooks and supplies.  "Teachers from at least one school are abruptly cut off from photocopying when they reach a threshold and the must get permission from school administration for any further photocopying."

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Betty-Jo Raddin

Among Raddin's recommendations was that the Board office building should be sold and staff relocated to the many underutilized schools.  "It might help mitigate the closures of schools and would be a benefit in that senior administration would be in contact with students and front line school staff on a regular and consistent basis.

She also suggested that salaries and allowances for assistants to Superintendents should come out of the school board administration budget  and that enrolment projections should be provided by schools and not the board's 'altered' numbers.

Regulations required that the funding formula be reviewed every five years but that has not happened since its inception in 1997/98.

Paula Walpole (OTF Educations Support Professionals) wasn't any happier than her predecessor speakers.

Paula Walpole

Having been an Educational Assistant (EA) for 28 years and representing 274 full-time members and 250 temporary members, she stressed the the rising number of intense needs students and that number of special needs students is expected to grow.

"According to what we hear in the news, Bluewater is facing a big cut in special education
funding despite an increase in students with autism. "We have lost 13 permanent EA positions since 2011."

"I am very frustrated by the lack of information sharedEvery time there is an article in the news about cuts to Special Ed funding that leads to EA cuts,  I received panicked emails or phone calls from members and there is nothing I can tell them."

Like Huettlin, Walpole suggested that Trustees get out to see firsthand the many challenges faced by EAs and the special needs students.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015