On May 13, I was in attendance at the public school board meeting held in Salmon Arm, the atmosphere at which could only be described as grim.
Areas cut in the budget that night included, but certainly weren’t limited to, counselling, maintenance, the Family Life program, education assistance, deaf and hard of hearing support, music, and teacher librarians. A mom fought back tears to articulate her fear that children with speech delays might not get the help they need and could be left behind because of the current round of budget cuts.
A long-time trustee spoke of how he is witnessing the same programs he watched develop and grow over the years now being dismantled. With nothing extraneous left to cut, another trustee described the budget process as akin to having to decide which finger was least vital to the functioning of the hand.
This scene has played out across the province this spring. Although fixed costs (hydro, heating, bus fuel) steadily increase, the Ministry of Education has frozen funding with no change in sight. Add to this the demographic pressure in a period of lower enrolment, which means fewer funds to keep the same number of schools open. Everyone in the room that night agreed there is a disconnect between the real impact the budget shortfalls are having on children and the quality of education they receive and the public’s awareness of the problem. It was felt that if parents and the public at large would only speak up the government would respond.
These cuts will hurt but next year another finger will have to be found. That could mean closing schools, or asking parents to contribute to the cost of busing, or worse.
If we start demanding that schools be properly funded today, perhaps that next finger can be spared.