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EDITORIAL: Coquitlam district learned some tough lessons last year
Classrooms weren't the only places where lessons were delivered last year and School District 43 may just be better for it.
The board room at the Coquitlam district office on Poirier Street was another place where more than a few lessons were taught. Last winter and spring, educators, parents and school support workers were transfixed by the ever-changing numbers used to describe the district's financial situation.
Throughout the budget discussions leading to $12.1 million in cuts to stem the bleeding this year, many observers reported being "flabbergasted" and appalled that officials seemingly didn't have a handle on district finances.
A $7.5-million deficit revealed in January ballooned to $13 million, and without $5 million in cuts, the district would have been $8.2 million further in the hole that it is now.
But there is a silver lining to all that terrible mess in that the district has now realized it must be more open, transparent and rigorous in tracking its finances and has promised regular updates, as well a forensic audit to find out what went wrong. It has also promised to be more strategic in drafting the budget — looking at a three-to-five-year budget window instead of a single year.
Other districts take a longer view, as do cities, and it might help the SD43 planning process.
Still, these progressive changes do nothing to soften the blow to teachers and support workers who lost their jobs. They won't cut waiting lists for special needs kids waiting to be assessed or provide more counselling services for vulnerable kids.
What's more, the district still has to deal with the province's byzantine funding arrangement, which is still overtly political, mercurial, confusing and represents the very antithesis of long-term planning. But this is something the board will have to deal with.
At the same time, the district will likely find itself having to cover the costs of CUPE wage increases granted by the province without additional funding from the province.
Nevertheless, lessons from the last school year are much appreciated and the changes promised should go some way toward assuring the public that the district has learned from its 2013 failing grade.
If nothing else, SD43 promises to do better in math this year.