Home Education Westshore - SD62 Sooke School District budget cutbacks will bite

Sooke School District budget cutbacks will bite

Early childhood educators, librarian technicians & custodial staff -- and one principal or vice-principal -- will be dropped if Budget for 2024-25 is passed.

sd62, prioritizing people
Prioritizing People is the theme of Budget 2024-25 for SD62. [Apr 23/24 livestream]

Tuesday April 23, 2024 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated April 24, 2024]

by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends

The Sooke School District (SD62) Education Committee tonight heard about proposed budget cutbacks for the 2024/25 school year.

superintendent, paul block, sd62
Sooke School District (SD62) Superintendent Paul Block at the April 23, 2024 Education Policy Committee. [Livestream]

The polite word is ‘budget pressures’ and this year it was much of the same as has been heard in any other previous difficult years, with a few creative exceptions.

SD62 does deliver public education in a fast-growing region that encompasses the populations of Langford, Colwood, Sooke, Metchosin, Highlands, and the Juan de Fuca areas of East Sooke and west of Sooke up to Port Renfrew.

Since 2014 SD62 has been grappling with realities of the fast-growing local population such as needing more classroom space and more teachers.

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Addressing the SD62 Education Policy meeting about impact on Early Childhood Educators, April 23, 2024.

The fast housing growth in the west shore is a consequence of the Capital Regional District (CRD) Regional Growth Strategy that since 2008 intended to redirect housing development beyond the core areas of Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt and Oak Bay.

ece, sd62
Addressing the SD62 Education Policy meeting about impact on Early Childhood Educators, April 23, 2024.

Targeting ECE’s:

Something that hasn’t been a budget cutback in any previous years is the jobs held by Early Childhood Educators (ECEs). The proposed 2024/25 budget would see the existing 11 ECE instructors dropped from their roles working in Kindergarten classes. SD62 Superintendent Paul Block explained that what started as a pilot project in 2017/18 is “not scalable and remains unfunded”.

He noted that including child care services within the K-12 education system is relatively new, starting only as recently as 2022. He hopes to see the inclusion of ECE’s as a regular budget line item based on full provincial ministry funding.

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Libarian cutbacks:

Cutting back on support staff in libraries has been tried in some previous years. It bears the echo of cutting back on librarians and in some cases closing school libraries under the previous provincial government (2001-2016).

library technician, sheila martin, sd62
Library technician Sheila Martin described how students can benefit in many ways by the work and presence of librarian technicians in school libraries. [livestream]

Block expressed the proposed cutback of the unionized (CUPE) jobs as ‘shifting librarian load to teachers.

During public comment, librarian technician Sheila Martin reiterated some points she made a few years ago when that type of position was cut back… that students in the library have a unique opportunity with library technicians to explore books and build relationships that support mental health and wellness of students during the school experience.

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Cutting back on custodial:

There is also the proposal that custodial CUPE staff be cut back, saying that less cleaning is required now that the COVID pandemic is in the rear view mirror.

Losing one PVP:

With some evidence of emotion, Block said that one member of the Principals and Vice-Principals Association would be dropped. Though he did emphasize several times during the evening meeting that no current SD62 employee would lose their job, if they are interested in taking another position within the school district.

Reallocated funding will ensure that every person who is displaced from a job can still remain employed with SD62 in another position, if they choose, said Block.

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Tough choices:

“None of the decisions are good or that we like,” said Block this evening. “But they are for the good of the district overall,”he said about the proposed cutbacks. He said that SD62 is “putting students first and that classrooms are sacrosanct”. However, it seems obvious that all the proposed cutbacks will ultimately filter back into the degree of success with overall learning at schools.

sd62, priorities
Sooke School District (SD62) priority paradigm, as presented at the SD62 Education Policy Committee on April 23, 2024.

“These are all difficult options, comes from a chronically underfunded system, and just starting to come out of years of strain,” said SD62 Board Chair Amanda Dowhy. “None of these are good decisions,all of them are tough,” she said.

Secretary-Treasurer Harold Cull explained in his budget presentation this evening that increased expenditures include paying more benefits to staff (more staff as the school district grows), and that utility costs are higher (with more schools, and the increasing grind of inflation).

amanda dowhy, board chair, sd62
SD62 Chair Amanda Dowhy at the Education Policy Committee meeting on April 23, 2024. [livestream]

Cull recommends boosting promotion of the availability of facility spaces available for rent, as a relatively easy form of revenue. However, someone during the evening suggested that increased use of non-classtime facilities adds to the utility costs (but probably only if the rental fees are not high enough to cover the increase in utility use).

New per-student revenues doesn’t come along with unfunded pressures, says Cull. For years the Ministry of Education and Child Care has never caved on producing a new funding formula to address the incidental costs of a fast-growing district.

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“None of us expected it to be like this, across BC,” said SD62 Trustee Allison Watson.

“Inflation is not new,” said Block, saying the impact for 2024-25 began to become apparent in March, upon hearing from the Ministry of Education and Child Care that there would be about a $900,000 shortfall for this fall. That change had to do with the geographical location change (SD62 is more urban in the west shore than say 10 years ago when the school district was more rural).

harold cull, sd62
SD62 Secretary-Treasurer [File: Dec 13, 2022 board meeting]. [livestream]

Reserve or not:

Several years ago there was a lengthy process of starting and maintaining a funding reserve, to deal with unforeseen pressures. This year the recommendation is to possibly dip into that fund by reducing the usual 2% reserve down to “right now managing with 1.5%”, as stated by Cull.

It seems somehow inconsistent for Cull to have said that “if enrollment (in September) exceeds projections and revenue goes up” that it “will inject money back into the system” — considering that the pressures of growth are regularly given as the reason for budget challenges to being with.

“The reserve (use) would buy us time and space,” said Cull. But enrollment continues to trend (lower than in previous year) it will be challenge, but if enrollment picks up then things ease, said Cull.

sooke teachers association, sd62
Sooke Teachers Association rep at SD62 Education Policy Committee meeting, April 23, 2024. [livestream]

Cull proposed that budgeting for teacher staffing and bus routes is “easier to do funding allocations now than in September/October”.

On the revenue side, “international enrollment has been working its way back up”.

One of the Sooke Teachers Association reps asked the committee to consider “using the reserve to relieve one-time pressures ” in 2024/25. “Until enrollment picks up.”

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Inflation and economic trends:

“Inflation continues to be a challenge. Hopefully not at high rates, but it does continue to erode our purchasing power as a district. We are able to buy less services and supplies,” said Cull.

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“The economy has been shifting,” said Block. “Fewer students are arriving at our doorstep,” he said, due to fewer families moving to the west shore due to higher inflation rates (on mortgages and pushing up rents). And hence the conservative approach to maintaining the reserve at 2% this year.

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The reserve is presently at $2.6 million, based on long range enrollment. The projected student increase in September 2024 is 306 and then 415 in September 2025, said Block. Those numbers are in the range of approximately one new elementary school per year.

Prefab helps:

Prefab classrooms being added at two elementary schools in the west shore (Ruth King in Langford and David Cameron in Colwood) has significantly reduced the costs associated with relocating and setting up portables in response to changes in student populations at the various schools.

school yard, ruth king, elementary, langford
New modular classrooms will become part of the main school at Ruth King Elementary in Langford, using up some of the existing open space area. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

But without that sort of additional support it will put SD62 “back into a position of moving portables around, which comes with costs”, said Cull this evening.

Society depends on schools:

“Our society depends on you,” said former SD62 trustee Wendy Hobbs from the audience as a member of the public. The children are there. “We can help them with their diverse learning. Put priority into the school system with mental health,” said Hobbs.

Next SD62 meeting:

The next public livestreamed board meeting of SD62 is scheduled for Tuesday April 30 at 7 pm.

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Island Social Trends reports news with socioeconomic insights and analysis. Independent news service on south Vancouver Island, BC. Read free online or get the biweekly PDF by email.


mary p brooke, headshot, editor
Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke

Mary P Brooke has been covering news of the SD62 board and committee meetings since 2014.

In 2023, Ms Brooke was nominated for a Jack Webster Foundation journalism award for contributing to her community through professional journalism.

Mary’s four now-grown children attended schools in SD61 and SD62. She ran for school trustee in SD62 in 2022.