Layoffs loom as trustees struggle to balance deficit

JASON HEWLETT / Kamloops Daily News
January 4, 2010 01:00 AM

If schools aren't closed at the elementary level the Kamloops-Thompson School District will consider extensive job cuts to balance a deficit budget, the chairman of the school board said Sunday.

"It's getting more and more difficult to avoid that," said Ken Christian.

Christian doesn't know how widespread the layoffs would be, but everyone from teachers to administrators could be affected, he said.

"It will be up to the board to decide but, if they don't (close schools), they are going to have to start laying off extensive numbers of people," said Christian.

Trustees have saved about $1.6 million toward a more than $3-million budget shortfall during the first two rounds of school reconfigurations.

Instead of closing rural schools, trustees elected to maintain the schools with reduced services. The school district also changed secondary schools on a school-by-school basis to avoid an unpopular move to senior and junior high schools.

The school district begins a series of public meetings Jan. 12 on the future of French immersion. Christian said a dwindling English population at French immersion schools prompted school district staff to consider single-track schools.

He said the student population at Marion Schilling is one-third English track and two-thirds French. This has created English classes with multiple grade levels.

"We're dealing with 50 per cent occupancy at some of these schools," he said, adding the district's plan asks some schools to consolidate and others to close.

Christian said the district must still save about $1.4 million and, because closures were avoided at the rural level, it will be harder to do so this time.

As with previous rounds of public meetings, district staff will gather input and come up with alternatives. Christian said no one likes to close schools, but the budget must be balanced.

Not everyone is convinced layoffs need to happen. Kamloops-Thompson Teachers' Association president David Komljenovic said positions are cut every year, but enough people retire to avoid layoffs. He hopes this will be the case in 2010.

He said trustees should stand up to the province and propose a protest budget that places the blame for closures on the government.

"Why would trustees have to submit a balanced budget when the government goes into deficit?" said Komljenovic.

Trustee Gerald Watson said the odds are against the school district submitting a protest budget to Victoria.

School districts are required by the School Act to submit a balanced budget every spring, and that takes staff months to prepare. It would be impossible to produce two budgets, he said.

The meeting for Ralph Bell and Marion Schilling takes place Jan. 12 at 7 p.m. and Henry Grube Education Centre.

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