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Cariboo-Chilcotin school trustees vote to break the law

In a move similar to other financial crises dating back to the mid-1980s, the trustees of School District 27 (Cariboo-Chilcotin) have voted 4-3 for a budget that would break provincial law by running a deficit.

The decision, taken at a meeting on January 28, puts the board on a collision course with Victoria and could result in the firing of the trustees.

At that meeting the board passed several motions including these:

“1. That the Board of Education develop a budget for 2010-2011 that retains an acceptable quality of education for our students. Given current funding projections, it is anticipated that this may result in a deficit budget. The Board accepts that this is contrary to the advice of senior staff and requirements of the School Act. Trustees Elliot, Rodier and Penner opposed.

“2. That motion #1 above to put forward a deficit budget be copied to all B.C. school districts and the Minister; that a letter be sent to all B.C. school districts encouraging them to consider taking and announcing similar action; and further, that a letter be sent to Minister of Education indicating the Board’s interest in working together to address our budget concerns. Trustee Elliott opposed.”

The motions were reported in the Williams Lake Tribune on January 29.

In an interview with The Tyee, Board Chair Wayne Rodier said the motions were passed when the Olympic torch relay was in town and only two persons were in the audience -- a parent and the head of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association.

“We are in a position where we expect a $3.4 million shortfall,” Rodier said, adding that the board had spent days looking at options like closing or consolidating schools and shutting down programs.

Asked if he expected the board to be fired by the ministry, as has happened to other boards in the past, Rodier said he did, but that it probably wouldn’t happen until School District 27 actually files a deficit budget, which would be on April 15.

Joan Erb, president of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association, told The Tyee that teachers had voted twice, in December and January, to ask the board to submit a deficit budget.

“We are very supportive and very, very pleased that they did so,” she said. “This is the first board to say, ‘We can’t run this district with the amount of money you’re giving us.’ We’re working as hard as we can to get support from other locals.”

Similar measures were taken by B.C. school boards in 1985, when 35 districts submitted “needs budgets” rather than work within what the Socred government of the day had required. Most eventually submitted “compliance budgets,” and in May the Vancouver School Board was fired for failing to do so.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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