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Teachers plead to save programs as Coquitlam district faces cuts

School District 43 music teachers would like to see consistent music programming in every school. They were among dozens of teachers who packed a board meeting Tuesday night to talk about next year
School District 43 music teachers would like to see consistent music programming in every school. They were among dozens of teachers who packed a board meeting Tuesday night to talk about next year's budget.
— image credit: THINKSTOCK.COM

Dozens of teachers packed a board of education meeting Tuesday to persuade trustees not to cut their jobs or programs as School District 43 faces one of its toughest budgets in years.

With no extra funding expected from the province, School  Superintendent Tom Grant predicted that budget talks for the 2013/2014 school year will be difficult and trustees will have to make unpalatable decisions.

According to the latest budget figures, SD43 could end the year with a $2.5 million deficit, which will have to be paid back in subsequent years, likely with cuts in every department.

"It's not going to be easy," Grant told trustees, and "every single budget line" will have to be reviewed to see if it can be reduced.

But those who attended Tuesday's board meeting are hoping to avoid the axe and indeed, would like to see improvements in programs considered important to children, such as music.

In a sometimes emotional meeting punctuated with applause, home economics teachers, school librarians, music teachers, teachers who work in staff development and special needs teachers gave trustees information about how their work supports children's learning.

One teacher who works on call for the district said he's already suffered a loss in income because of decisions to extend spring break by a week [by lengthening the school day] and the elimination of professional development during school hours, which means substitutes can't get work filling in for teachers on special projects.

Ryan Lee said he supports his teaching job with work in other districts and a third, non-teaching job working for a chain to pay his bills, including a student loan. Noting that substitute teachers don't get the same benefits, and often less pay than contract teachers, he asked the board to give more thought to teachers on call because they deserve to be "equally valued employees."

Coquitlam Teacher's Association president Teresa Grandinetti said the board could save $700,000 if it didn't replace managers who have left and reclassified others. Grandinetti said cutting administration would have less impact on students than reducing the hours of specialist teachers or teachers on call.

"I expect there will be cuts this year and I also do not expect the cuts to be equitable. However, I do not expect CTA members or our CUPE colleagues to bear the brunt of the cuts. That has happened far too often in the past," Grandinetti said.

Board chair Melissa Hyndes agrees the board faces the toughest budget in years. In an interview with The News she said: "These are tough decisions and you look out at these people - it's their jobs and livelihoods," she said.

Hyndes said the board expects to start dealing with the 2013-2014 budget after spring break, in early April.

PROGRAMS BENEFICIAL

Here's a brief summary of what teachers had to say about their programs:

• Melissa Edstrom from Moody middle school said students get skills for life from home economics.

• Maureen McQuarrie from student services said more students than ever are being diagnosed with special needs, without an increase in staffing to support them. For example, students with a moderate to profound intellectual or physical disability, including autism, increased from 566 in 2006 to 674 in 2013, those with mild intellectual or learning disabilities increased from 2,737 in 2009 to 3,895 in 2013.

• Speech and language pathologists talked about work they do with students who are non-verbal or have trouble communicating, with activities such as talking tables that build language skills.

• Teacher librarians noted that funding for school libraries has stagnated or dropped in B.C., and asked that every elementary school in the district get a minimum .5 FTE for a librarian

•Staff development coordinators represented by Jill Reid said they support teachers in their professional development and enhance the investment in quality staff, resulting in one of the highest graduation rates in the province.

• Music teachers called for equitable music and arts programming throughout the district and proposed a four year plan, with no new costs attached, to create curriculum and programming for K to12 students.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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