School District 5 (SD5) passed a balanced budget of approximately $74.4 million at a board meeting on June 17, 2020.
In addition to the legislated balanced budget, SD5 also submitted a “Needs Budget” to the province that takes into account unique challenges that the school district is facing.
“This Needs Budget reflects the educational reality of district needs rather than the budgetary reality of government grants,” explained Frank Lento, SD5 board chair. “We need government to recognize this reality and to work with boards constructively to ensure a strong public education system.”
Trustee Chris Johns presented this information to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services on June 15. In his presentation, Johns highlighted several projects in the area that are in dire need of funding. The first project is the possible addition of a new middle school in Fernie.
Johns noted that Fernie is “the fastest growing community of its kind in Canada,” and that Ecole Isabella Dicken Elementary School (EIDES) is feeling the effects of this. The elementary school will soon be installing their eighth and ninth portables to accommodate the projected 626 students enrolled for the 2020/2021 school year.
Although the Board of Education and the Ministry of Education have been looking into an expansion of EIDES, the SD5 board believes that having an elementary school with more than 600 students is simply not practical. As a result, the board is advocating for the building of a middle school in Fernie.
The second project Johns focused on in his presentation was major renovations to Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook. The SD5 board has been pushing for a full replacement of the school for over a decade but has been unsuccessful in their funding attempts.
“We’ve been spending money, millions of dollars, in the school enhancement plan, carbon neutral programs, the capital bylaws, the annual facility grant,” Johns said. “We’ve been using that money, taking that away from other buildings in our communities to make sure that this building is still suitable.”
The final area of focus in the Needs Budget for SD5 is further funding for Special Education.
“We know that all students have unique educational needs,” Lento acknowledged. “But for approximately 13 per cent of our students, the funding we receive is insufficient to adequately support those needs.”
Lento added that the provincial government needs to acknowledge the current realities in SD5 and make an investment in the future of education in our region.
“We will continue to provide a Needs Budget with our annual budget, and to present to the Select Standing Committee each year as long as there are unmet educational needs in our district,” Lento concluded.