schoolPrivate schools in B.C. bucking trend of declining enrollment

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The only real spending boost for B.C. public schools in the coming year will be a modest, previously announced fund to help teachers deal with special-needs students in their increasingly diverse classrooms, according to budget documents released today.

But apart from that new learning investment fund, which will distribute $30 million next year and a total of $165 million over three years, the basic grant for public education is expected to remain relatively flat for three years at an annual $4.7 billion a year. Average spending for K-12 schools will grow at only 0.6 per cent next year, down from 1.1 per cent during the previous two years and 4.8 per cent between 2005-06 and 2008-09.

The post-secondary sector faces similar restraints.

In delivering his budget today, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon urged the 60 school districts – especially 17 in and around Metro Vancouver – to reduce costs by sharing more head-office functions. Districts now spend about $840 million a year on administration, operations, maintenance and transportation services and could expect savings of three to eight per cent by following the Health Ministry’s approach to shared services, budget documents suggest.

It’s advice school officials have been hearing for years.

In addition, school districts, universities, colleges and others in the public sector are being told to sell surplus properties to raise money for other projects. A recent government review identified more than 100 surplus properties and estimated that disposal of some could produce a net gain of about $700 million. Falcon said 40 per cent of those properties are in the education sector and proceeds could help finance other capital projects.

As expected, the budget offers no money for a pay hike for B.C. teachers, whose union recently proposed a 15 per cent increase in a three-year deal. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association have made little progress during almost 12 months of bargaining, and a government fact finder is expected to report by Thursday on whether a negotiated deal is possible.

“Let me be perfectly clear,” Falcon stated in his budget speech. “We are not prepared to borrow money to pay for public-sector wage increases today and send the bill to our children tomorrow.”

The post-secondary sector also received a tough message, with government calling for reductions in administrative budgets by $20 million in 2013-14 and $50 million in 2014-15. Savings must come from travel, executive overhead and support services, but not classrooms, the minister said.

“The province will work with universities, colleges and other institutions to help ensure that front-line programs are not affected,” he told the legislature. “And we believe (this) one per cent cost reduction is very achievable.”

As in the K-12 sector, the average annual increases for post-secondary are shrinking – to 1.6 per cent a year in the coming three years from 3.4 per cent during the past two years and 6.5 per cent between 2005-06 and 2008-09. Annual spending for post-secondary is about $5 billion.

Overall, education will consume a smaller percentage of annual government spending at 26.8 per cent in 2012-13 compared to 27.6 per cent two years ago.

Written by: Janet Steffenhagen

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