Surrey Board of Education vice-chair Terry Allen has a message for the panel reviewing the way B.C.’s schools are funded: “Leave per-pupil funding alone.”
Allen, who is the chair of the district’s budget committee, said a shift away from per-student funding allocation would “hugely disadvantage” B.C.’s largest school district.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. It’s fine the way it is,” Allen told the Now-Leader. “Once you change the formula away from per-pupil finding it’s going to be a negative for larger districts.”
A review panel that will change the way public schools are funded was announced on March 1.
It will be the first time in 25 years public education has been funded differently, according to Minister of Education Rob Fleming, and could begin as soon as 2019.
Right now, the Ministry of Education delivers $5.65 billion in operating funding to 60 boards of education throughout the province.
Allen decried the lack of large district representation on the review panel, noting B.C.’s two largest districts — Surrey and Vancouver — are not represented.
“All you’re going to get is people from the rural and smaller districts trying to make these changes to their benefit and we say, at the cost of the Surrey Board of Education. The bigger districts would get less (if there is a shift away from per-pupil funding), there’s no questions about that,” he added.
“There are school districts in the rural areas that have 955 kids. I have more kids than that in Princess Margaret Secondary alone,” he said. “The Surrey school district this year has 72,000 students.”
Allen said what Surrey truly needs is more CommunityLINK (Learning Includes Nutrition and Knowledge) funding, designed to support the academic achievement and social functioning of vulnerable students. Programs supports by this fund include breakfast, hot lunch and after school programs, as well as academic supports and counselling.
“Everybody has funding issues, but I would say our funding issues are greater,” Allen said. “We’ve done our submissions (to the province to do with the funding formula), we’ve done everything we’re supposed to do but I’m quite amazed and quite disappointed when I look at the makeup of the committee.”
Allen said Surrey trustees plan to attend consultation sessions to reiterate their position to the panel.
“We’ll fight the good fight,” he said. “At the end of the day, if the per-pupil formula changes I can tell you in very short order, things will change dramatically in Surrey…. As a cynic, I think it’s a foregone conclusion that the funding formula will change.”
Allen questioned why Surrey’s MLAs aren’t standing up with the same position.
“This initiative started off with the previous Liberal government to appease the (rural) boards. The NDP, for whatever reason, determined they wanted to review it too,” he noted. “Think about how many NDP MLAs there are in Surrey. It’s amazing they are continuing with it.”
Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims said in an emailed statement that the NDP are committed to reviewing the current system to “ensure that our schools have the resources they need.”
“Enrollment is once again climbing, technology is playing a much larger role, and methods for delivering education programming are rapidly evolving,” Sims’ statement reads. “This review will help us develop a more equitable and sustainable funding model that improves outcomes for students and provides a stable funding platform to all Boards of Education. Our goal is to ensure equal access to educational programs and services for students throughout the province-no matter where they live.”
Sims noted the NDP government will increase “operating funding for schools by $1.1 billion and we have introduced the largest infrastructure budget in generations – investing $1.8 billion in our kids over the next three years. This includes funds specifically targeted at reducing portables after years of inaction by the previous government.”
Sims said school trustees are represented on the panel by the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA).
“As co-governors of the education system, the Ministry of Education and the BCSTA initiated this review, and the BCSTA helped develop the shared principles for the future funding model,” according to Sims’ statement.
Chairing the panel will be Chris Trumpy, a former deputy minister of finance. He was appointed by Minister Fleming for the position on the panel, which will soon begin consulting with stakeholders and undertake further research and analysis on a new funding model.
The other six panel members are Flavia Coughlan, the secretary-treasurer of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows District and vice-president, B.C. Association of School Business Officials (BCASBO); Piet Langstraat, superintendent, Greater Victoria School District and former superintendent in the Alberta school system; Lynda Minnabarriet, secretary-treasurer, Gold Trail School District and chair of B.C. Education Marketplace; Kelly Pollack, a partner at Human Capital Strategies and founder and former CEO, Immigrant Employment Council of B.C.; Philip Steenkamp, vice-president, external relations at University of British Columbia and former deputy minister, ministries of Advanced Education, Aboriginal Affairs, Tourism, Culture and the Arts, and Regional Economic and Skills Development; and Angus Wilson, superintendent, Mission School District and former superintendent of the Haida Gwaii School District.
The province says consultations with key education stakeholders will take place during the spring of 2018. They will present a summary to the Ministry of Education, and a new model will be developed by government with implementation planned for the 2019-20 school year.
A funding formula change is not the only potential hit the district could see.
Allen said the district is looking at a big bill after the provincial NDP government revealed the “employer health tax” in its budget last month as part of a plan to phase out Medical Services Plan premiums a year earlier than promised in the last election.
The tax takes effect Jan. 1, 2019 and applies to businesses with annual payrolls of more than $500,000, some of which now pay MSP premiums on behalf of their employees. The tax rate is 1.95 per cent for businesses with payroll above $1.5 million, with reduced rates for payrolls between $500,000 and $1.5 million.
What does that mean for the Surrey school district?
“Our cost for the new premium will be $2 million in 2019-20, and $3.7 million in 2018-19,” Allen revealed.
“We’re majorly concerned,” he said. “It will be a big impact.”
-With files from Black Press