Cuts to rural busing and culinary programs dominated the discussion at a Delta School District budget meeting Tuesday night.
About two dozen parents, students and teachers had their say on the Delta Board of Education’s proposed spending cuts aimed at balancing the operating budget for the 2013-2014 school year.
The board has tabled $1.9 million in cuts to staff, programs and supplies to help cover a projected $3.5 million deficit. The rest of the money would come from a $1 million reserve and increasing continuing education and international student revenue.
The largest shortfall in Delta’s budget is due to the province slashing student busing funding by 47 per cent over three years, meaning the district has to reduce its busing costs by $380,000 in each of the next two years.
To do that, it’s been proposed rural bus routes be discontinued, except for children with special needs. The suggestion raised the ire of many parents.
Mom Skye Zabil said she felt the board’s recommendation bordered on discriminatory.
“What I’m hearing … is that the needs of special needs students’ parents takes precedence over ours, but more importantly, the safety of special needs students takes priority over my childrens’, and that offends me.”
Other parents worried about the safety of kids walking beside busy roads and through remote and forested areas, possibly in darkness.
Tony Clark has two kids at Pinewood Elementary in North Delta, near Watershed Park. His children would have to walk to school along Highway 10, where there is no sidewalk and speeding is prevalent.
“You want kids to walk there with trucks going a hundred kilometres an hour?” Clark asked trustees. “It’s not going to take very long … there’ll be an accident along there.”
Jeannie Stewart lives in Boundary Bay and her son takes the bus to South Delta Secondary daily. She’s particularly concerned about his well-being walking because he’s deaf.
“He does not hear cars coming from behind,” said Stewart. “Student safety, to me, should be the top priority of the board.”
Supporters of Delta’s high school culinary arts programs also decried a planned $64,000 cut to teaching cafeteria funding.
Gerald Worobetz, chef instructor at South Delta Secondary, said though there may not be many students in the culinary program, the benefits are far reaching. He said the inclusive program provides the much-talked-about “experiential learning,” leading to achievement and job skills, while simultaneously feeding staff and students.
Lori Pilling, culinary arts teacher at Delta Secondary’s kitchen, pointed to the fact the program attracts students who may not succeed in other areas.
“Our program catches students that would fall through the cracks,” Pilling said. “We provide students with opportunities to feel pride in themselves, opportunities to succeed.”
Student Sam Ross, who attends Seaquam Secondary, said he had never cooked for anyone but his family before this year, and has now served food to a thousand people. He said it disturbs him that other students might not be provided the opportunity he has.
“The culinary program is a program we cannot afford to lose,” said Ross.
Worobetz, Pilling and Seaquam teacher Michael Boyle said cuts to kitchen support staff would inevitably lead to safety issues and accidents.
Other speakers suggested Delta trustees look elsewhere to trim costs, such as administration.
Delta Teachers’ Association president Paul Steer said after a decade of restraint, services need to be restored, not cut further. He said slashing school supply accounts by a proposed $80,000 will only leave parents on the hook. Parents, said Steer, should not be asked to “shoulder a greater burden” than they already are.
Tuesday night’s meeting was for “information gathering” purposes only, said trustees, who vote on the final budget next Tuesday (April 23).