Continuing cuts to staff are not being seen by the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district and its employees as the best means for the district to balance its already stretched annual budgets.
The district is facing a projected shortfall of more than $10 million during the next two years if the funding pressures facing local schools continue, on top of the cuts to staff and services the district has already faced over the past decade to balance its budgets.
With the likelihood of ongoing shortfalls in the school district, the local school board is asking the province to develop a new funding program for public education in B.C. that better reflects the realities of a modern educational system.
School board chairman Jamie Brennan said, with salaries and benefits accounting for more than 90 per cent of the district's budget, dozens of teachers and support workers have been let go over the past decade as the board worked to submit balanced budgets, leading to some the largest secondary classes in the province.
He said trustees would prefer another approach to funding other than the current per-student model that penalizes districts, like Nanaimo-Ladysmith, that are facing ongoing decreases in enrolment.
Brennan said districts are also facing increasing cost pressures due to the government's downloading of much of the financial responsibility of helping to pay for the new contract with the province's CUPE support workers and employee pension plans, among other costs.
Mike Ball, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers' Association, said the expectation that teachers should share more of the district's economic burdens with pay cuts and more lay-offs to help balance the books is unrealistic.
Ball said the under funding of school districts started at the provincial level 12 years ago and teachers have not seen a wage increase in years while the cost of living has increased approximately five per cent in the last three years alone.
"Teachers in the district and across B.C. see any thought of pay cuts to help districts balance their budgets as a complete insult," he said.
"As it stands, B.C. teachers make almost 20 per cent less than teachers in Alberta and are among the lowest-paid across the country."
Rob Zver, president of the CUPE Local 606 which represents the district's support workers, couldn't be reached for comment by press time.
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