Trustee hopefuls talk dollars and sense

Chilliwack school district has experienced significant budgetary cuts in the last three years due to climbing costs and increased mandates.

Chilliwack school district has experienced significant budgetary cuts in the last three years due to climbing costs and increased mandates.

Administrators, teachers, educational assistants, and support staff have had reductions.

The school district also started charging for busing, restructured its administration to cover multiple schools, and last year tested out a two-week spring break as cost-saving measures.

All of which were controversial.

School trustee candidates were asked by The Progress what innovative strategies could the school district implement to increase revenue.

These are their responses:

Nicki Redekop:

I believe the school district needs to come together with the province as a whole and find support with all hands in this together. I am sure we aren’t the only district struggling with numbers and budgets, and I don’t believe the answer will be found simply by looking within our own district. There needs to be a big picture perspective taken with this issue and the districts within the province need to work as a team, and work towards a resolve.

Harold Schmidt:

Increasing district revenue should be done at the provincial level with the Ministry of Education. The most effective method is an informed public at the time of electing the provincial government which ultimately funds the school district. When the public is knowledgeable about Ministry of Education funding for the district and the district’s needs, then a government can be elected which best supports adequate funding. I would advocate that through the media (ie. newspapers) a monthly reporting of the financial situation of the district be reported to the public, so as to put pressure on the provincial government.

Throughout Chilliwack (as in every community) various groups [Chilliwack Hospital, Hospice, SPCA, Cancer Society, United Way, etc. etc] want to increase their revenue. I shall digress at this point to say that if the government has deemed a service or institution as ‘essential’ then the government must fully fund that ‘essential service.’ People do not want to be ‘nickel and dimed to death’. Supporting optional services and institutions are an individual choice.

The BC Ministry of Education for 2011-2012 will be providing $4.721 billion in operating grants to boards of education through B.C. Those do not include special purpose or discretionary grants. The simplified funding formula comprises a student base allocation plus supplementary grants. There are 7 broad categories for supplementary grants:

Unique student needs, including special needs, English as a Second Language, Aboriginal Education, and Adult Education programs; Enrolment Decline, where enrolments decrease by more than one per cent in a year; Salary Differentials, for districts with higher average teacher salaries; Unique Geographic Factors; Transportation and Housing; Formula Transition; and Funding Protection.

Each FTE (Full Time Equivalent) student enrolled in the district garners $6,784; each Level 1 (physically dependent or deaf/blind) student garners a supplement of $36,600; Each Level 2 (profound intellectual disability, chronic health impairment, visual impairment, autism) garners a supplement of $18,300; each Level 3 (intensive behaviour interventions, serious mental illness) garners a supplement of $9,200; each Aboriginal headcount student garners a targeted supplement of $1,160. The seven categories for supplementary grants are determined by B.C. Ministry of Education policy formulas.

For the 2011-2012 full school year, the Chilliwack operating grant estimate based on the September, 2011 enrolment count is $103,222,045. The supplement for special needs students for Chilliwack are: 20 Level 1 students for $732,000, 440 Level 2 students for $8,052,000, 128 Level 3 students for $1,177,600, 519 ESL students for $695,460, and 1,764 Aboriginal students for $2,046,240.

Unfortunately, when the district budget is $103,222,045, the increase of school district revenue through local initiatives would be rather small in comparison and a band-aid solution. The district has almost exhausted measures of cutting expenses and the general public does not look favourably upon increasing the local property school tax mil rate of 2.44860.

When the Ministry of Education froze funding for district transportation at the 2002 levels, the current board began to charge $200 per child (to a maximum of $600 per family) for bus transportation.

The BC Solicitor General though the BC Gaming Policy grants PAC groups funds at a rate of $20 per student and DPAC for $2,5000.

Doug McKay:

I am unsure what ‘innovative’ ways are available to us. Other districts have started business ventures and that has not always been successful. I would not consider the increase of rental fees we charge as innovative and I am not sure it would generate sufficient funds to be worth while. I could quote from the June 2010 Comptroller General’s Report on the Vancouver School Board, page 79, but anyone can research that document. Innovative ways to increase revenue may be a conversation for the new Board of Education and the district’s executive leadership team.

Jack A. Bass:

Caveat: These suggestions are only “thinking out loud” ideas. I am opposed to now charging for items or property already paid for through past taxes or supported by existing taxes and user fees.

Todays families cannot add more user fees in the guise of “Revenue Enhancement.” In fact we should be using the present surplus to assure parents and taxpayers we have drawn a line in the sand. I also want to be cautious about turning the School Board or any Board or school staff into focusing on bringing in cash instead of our primary focus on student achievement. Nevertheless there are a number of innovative avenues of raising revenue.

In New Westminster where I was the Executive Director of the Downtown Business Improvement Society, the City allowed landowners to sell the “air rights” over their property. That is owners not needing the rights to build up 10 floors sold that amount of density to a developer needing additional allowances to precede with a high rise lacking the necessary density allowance. This could be explored with the city council.

Many schools have large land areas not needing a multiple story building while developers could build high rises using the density rights purchased from the school district.

Secondly, although I do not want to charge for space now given for free – we might promote additional rentals – not conflicting with school use could help schools with large gyms and other meeting facilities to supplement their budgets.

Thirdly, sponsorships such as naming rights used in public buildings “The Staples Centre “ can be sold on multiple year contracts and then resold as those contracts end. The stipulation would be that no harmful products such as candy be endorsed by a school or promoted over good health regimes simply because revenue was promised as the quid pro quo. I don’t want to see a line of drink and snack machines anymore than we would welcome a line of slot machines in school lobbies.

Sponsorships, naming rights and other revenue sources will require a new staff position in order that the marketing potential is maximized – if that is a path the Board and individual schools wishes to pursue. Again I would issue the caveat that any income be obtained without charging fees for services now offered for free. Taxpayers are already burdened with the mandated taxes and fees in place.

Sports teams can be a source of pride for schools and the source of sponsorship dollars not only for naming the team but for the pride of sponsorship itself. Local companies and sports minded individuals will help support schools when they identify themselves with a sport/team/school. This can offset the costs of equipment and maintenance. If we have no problem with commercial sponsorship of professional teams we can look at the names of local sponsors on our local school track and field facilities and team uniforms. I’d only want to proceed on any such action with the input of the Parent Advisory associations and public consultation.

Martha Wiens:

The board does not have the ability to decide this. We are funded with tax dollars, mandated to be spent according to Ministry of Education guidelines…

The International students create some funding, which is spent on education in the schools where the students attend. This has been a source of more revenue.

There is an opportunity of applying for gaming funds available to PAC groups, with conditions how to spend this money by the parents.

In the capital projects, (three new schools) there was opportunity to apply for space for the Neighborhood Learning in the new facilities. This will be available to groups for community activity. There will be a cost for the rent, will this create revenue  for the SD is not clear?

I believe the need for more revenue will dictate future boards to look for ways to accomplish that. It is clear any revenue for education must come from public money.

The community already provide great help to our school district. The dollar amount is substantial. Every school benefits from the generosity. We are grateful.

Vern Tompke:

Many Chilliwack parents have enrolled their children in others schools (even other PUBLIC school districts) taking potentially funding with them. For example, Nechako public school district (Vanderhoof) is seen as a progressive leader in supporting the growing number of home schooling families and, as a result, attracts numerous Chilliwack students (and funding). We need to become more responsive to the needs of parents looking for alternate forms of education – not simply offer them correspondence courses.

On another front, I would like to see an education specific foundation setup like the Langley School District has created. This fund, entitled “Make Education Memorable”, has become a source of funding for teachers to access who have a desire to embark on a “memorable” project on behalf of their students.

Kirsten Brandreth:

When considerations are made to make money for the school district we have to be sensitive that our number one priority is to provide meaningful education to our students. We should aim for a balanced budget not one that has a significant surplus. I would like to see revenue generated that is a ‘win/win’ situation for our students and community but not one that is derived from parents and staff constantly dipping into their pockets. I would look at the revenue that we are already receiving and question how can more people learn about what we’re doing and how can we improve on current initiatives? Perhaps promotions via social media is an option?

Many of parents and community members own and operate businesses. Perhaps we could promote those with careful sponsorship within a school?

I would encourage parents to attend their school Parent Advisory Council meetings. Those meetings are a wonderful opportunity for parents to learn what is happening in their child’s school and also brainstorm ways we can better support school initiatives. I would encourage effective communication amongst our stakeholders to share new ideas for ways of generating additional revenue while keeping student achievement as our primary focus.

Walt Krahn:

I believe we need to proceed with caution in this regard as our first priority is to improve student achievement and we must devote our full energy to this goal. We must, however, attempt to maximize capacity and embrace the concept that all opportunities require attention and consideration. I propose the establishment of a Chilliwack Schools Foundation Fund to support and promote programs of excellence not funded by the Ministry of Education. The foundation’s sole purpose would be to assist Chilliwack students. With the support of the community, our service clubs and our partners, we would enhance and enrich our educational programs. This partnership would also build community and maintain strong ties of confidence and trust. Several districts have implemented a similar foundation with outstanding community support and student success!

I would further propose establishing more community schools where the buildings would be available to community groups thus generating revenues. We also need to be highly receptive to receiving input from all staff and parents about improving our efficiencies in all areas of the district’s work.

Heather Maahs:

Funding is dependent on how many students are in the schools, so what we’re really talking about are ways to increase those numbers. All of the districts choice schools have been very successful. F.G. Leary Fine Arts, Rosedale Traditional Community, and  McCammon Traditional have waiting lists. Offering more choices to parents in order to entice them from the private schools would be one way of increasing our enrollment hence increase our revenue.

Karen Jarvis:

Greater community use of schools could help increase funds. Some schools are already doing this. We need to be creative with the funds that we have.

Dan Coulter:

The school district could do fundraisers or rent out its buildings outside of school hours but generally I do not believe that the district should have to raise money. Other than special trips or events the district should not have to raise revenue. We need to get proper funding from the province by advocating for it. We may never get proper funding from the province if we start fundraising. They may even start asking us to expand our fundraising so that they can further reduce our funding. Our parents, teachers and other staff work hard enough that we should not have to worry about generating revenue.

Barry Neufeld:

Publicly elected school boards should not be put in the position of having to fundraise. According to the School Act, that is not the function of a public Board of Education. They may however, form an arms length business corporation to engage in a form of money generating business to support public education. The Chilliwack Board has traditionally been reluctant to go that route because the more successful a school board becomes at raising money, the less the government will feel the need to properly fund public education from the provincial purse.

According to the preamble to the BC School Act, the School Board’s purpose should be “to enable all learners to become literate, to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.”

Developing individual potential is similar to my concept of developing a sense of mastery in their students This is a broader goal than simply improving student achievement. In my opinion, the School Board needs to estimate the cost of what it would take to provide the necessary supports to make that happen. This would generate a “needs budget”, which would probably be more than the government currently allots. When the actual, balanced budget is presented for approval, it should be made very clear what programs and services had to be eliminated to balance the budget.

I have already stated that I would like to see the Board become more proactive at the provincial level: through its membership in the BC School Trustees Association, the BC Public School Employer’s Association and more frequent meetings with our MLAs. While the government issues regular announcements that they are increasing funding for public education, it has barely kept up with inflation, and the school district has not been able to expand or enhance its services to children. The difference in service to students between the NEEDS Budget and the actual  BALANCED Budget would give focus to discussions at the provincial level. The difference needs to be stated in terms of learning outcomes, not just dollar values.

Don Davis:

The Chilliwack School District has a challenge to raise revenue from non-traditional sources.

The audited financial statements contain a note that states that the school district is economically dependent on the provincial government.  This means that the operations of the school district could not continue to operate without this provincial revenue. This is a mighty big stick that the province wields when directing programs and curriculum.

It’s the classic “golden rule” – the province has the gold, so it makes the rules.

Own source revenue is the school district’s opportunity to direct some measure of control to the programs and services that are important to Chilliwack students.

A few measures that the board of education can consider:

Increasing investment income – the school district has significant cash resources that should be invested to maximize the return, trustees must secure the capital, of course, but even increasing the investment return by 1% would double the investment income earned last year.

Attract more international students – these students pay a high tuition rate to study in Canada.  There is a market for this education opportunity – a number of school districts are already doing this in a large way. The board of education should consider this opportunity.

Grants – a number of schools in Chilliwack still have single pane windows and outdated heating and cooling systems. The board of education should seek out grants and subsidies to embark on a replacement and renewal of our building systems to make our facilities energy efficient. The capital costs will be reduced by the grants and the operating costs will be reduced by using less energy. The cost savings can them be used to support other projects.

Joey Hagerman:

If I am elected as a trustee I will propose that we all vote to take an $8000.00 pay cut so that $56000.00 can be immediately made available so that the school district can hire two more full time education assistants to work with our special needs students. Once that is accomplished I will look into other sources of revenue that may help the district such as sponsors etc…

Louise Piper:

• Work with government to prioritize funding allocations more effectively (i.e.:  recently, funding became available for playgrounds. The ministry asked boards to submit their needs. We submitted a needs list that outlined upgrades to 9 elementary schools. We were granted (without consultation) 3 new playgrounds at middle schools.

• Government must pass just legislation and consider the risks or consequences before implementation.  i.e.:  Class size/composition – the cost to students over the past 10 years cannot be measured. Since the recent supreme court decision, government has put aside $165 million to correct this error. $165 million could have been used in far more productive ways in order to support student learning.

• Work with our local business community where the school district promotes the business or provides an educational experience, in return receives donations/work experience opportunities for students.  All of which would be within the framework of our educational goals and objectives.

• Keep the carbon tax in our school district to re-invest in strategies to lower emissions instead of giving it to PCT (Pacific Carbon Trust)

• Long range facilities planning

• Shared services with neighbouring school districts/municipalities so long as collective agreements are respected

• Explore standardization of processes in order to make operations more efficient which would lead to savings

• Explore the potential for further government NLC’s (Neighbourhood Learning Centres) –  partnerships with other community agencies housed within our schools to share our spaces and operating costs while providing extra support for student achievement

• Further explore building rental/leases, food programs, education programs outside of the bell schedule (i.e.: astronomy program – explore the night sky’s at some of our rural schools and make it a fun family event)

• Utilize the Richardson Road property – continue to explore the agricultural use of this property in partnership with UFV to develop an agricultural program for students – revenue from crop production

• Explore the potential development of the Ryder Lake property – partnership with UFV to develop a construction opportunity – utilize the building to further student learning – revenue from bldg rental/lease

•  Work with all partner groups to develop creative revenue strategies

Audrey Stollings:

Before the district should worry about new sources for funding, the board needs to learn to spend the money it already receives.  We cannot be lobbying government for additional funds or asking parents to put out of pocket more when we are not spending the money we already have! Case in point: 2009-2010 a $1.1 million surplus; and in 2010-2011 a $2.0 million surplus.

David Russell:

The district can not easily earn revenue from their capital assets for two reasons:

1. The district staff tasked with managing and renting our buildings are stretched thin as it is. In order to properly manage rentals we would have to add a half time or full time position which would cost any where from $30,000 to $90,000.

2. Rentals would dramatically increase the wear and tear on our buildings, increasing the costs even more.

The school district is an organization built for a single purpose: educating our children. To try and force it to deliver services for which it is not designed can cause greater stresses and interfere with its core mission.