Monday, February 28, 2011

Education Finances

Education finances are a tricky thing.  I don't claim to be an expert in the field, but as the Liberal leadership campaign came to a close, it is time to wonder what will happen with public educational in British Columbia as a result of the new Liberal Party leader. The new leader of the Liberal Party, and Premier of the province, Christy Clark has had a tumultuous relationship with teachers in the past and has pledged to re-examine the funding formulas.  As to what exactly this means, I am not sure.  Over the past few years as education finances debates continue in BC with the Liberals, the cost of public education continues to rise.  There are costs to move forward and there are additional costs just to maintain status quo.

Trying to have a 21st century school is trying.  Districts are struggling with bandwidth, and our district is no exception.  At this point I am not even talking about the additional hardware necessary.  There is no point in adding hardware if the system cannot handle what we currently have.  From my understanding BC was one of the first to have Internet in the schools, meaning that the problem is that BC was one of the first to have Internet in the schools and needs to seriously upgrade the infrastructure.  Our Provincial Learning Network is outdated and maxed out.  In order to deal with this problem our district has had to examine different possibilities.  It was mentioned in an article that for the Coquitlam School District "middle-of-the-road option that costs less than putting fibre at every school site but would still require a one-time $2.5-million investment plus $290,000 a year, or $785,000 annually to lease fibre over 20 years and the tools for five years."  

The district can either wait for additional funding to deal with this or take it on by itself.  To the best of my knowledge there is no additional funding coming.  That means that just to be able to have a manageable system the district needs to come up with nearly $3,ooo,ooo.  I just do not understand how the reigning provincial party can be talking about 21st century schools without providing the money necessary for the required infrastructure to make it possible.

Another finance piece that has confused me is how money is taken away.  Over the past few years taxes have been added, green initiatives have been put forth and schools have been footing the bill.  Perhaps it is just me, but I fail to understand why it makes sense to give schools $ and then take them back.  Here are a couple of examples.  This year, School District 43 will pay $232,000 to Pacific Carbon Trust to offset its energy, fuel and paper consumption but will get no money back for innovative projects, such as composting or recycling, that are cutting waste and dealing with climate change.  The second example is last year districts were saving money for required major renovations and yet had the money taken away because it was deemed to not be necessary because it had not been spent.  Since when is it prudent to spend your annual budget when you are not sure what renovations or major work might be necessary. 

These renovations would have replaced old and outdated boilers and made the schools heating systems more efficient, provide better air quality and make the schools "greener".  Better air quality, I would think, would result in fewer people being sick, another cost.  The great part of the Carbon taxes is that the money taken back was money school districts were going to use to make renovations and alterations that would have allowed the school districts to become more carbon neutral and now have to pay the Carbon tax because they were not compliant with the Green Goals.  To me it does not make sense to essentially fine a school district $232,000 because of a law that was enacted by the provincial party and then not giving the funding to the schools to make the necessary changes. 

Budget times are always interesting as districts have many difficult decisions to make.  It would be nice if there were not additional cost pressures added, but perhaps that is not reality.

1 comment:

  1. Remi, the easy answer is "it's complicated" :-) The Ministry funds Districts more or less in an "equal" way (I know, rural vs urban is a factor). The "formula" takes into account all sorts of variables (not that I understand it). For PLN, they provide a base which was adequate when the Internet was mostly text based and Districts didn't run their operations on the network. Our District has significantly embraced the use of educational technology and has essentially consumed all the network has to offer and it's time to invest in improvements. Just a comment on your $3M figure, the Board has been given an annual payment option if they feel that is more easily considered. If your readers would like more details on our network situation, they can head over to

    As to carbon tax, it is a behavioural change effort. My understanding is that the funds collected are funneled into "green" research. This isn't necessarily a bad thing... feels bad for our budget of course, just like it does at the gas pump for citizens. But it is one way to begin to shift behaviour and invest in needed research for alternative energy sources.

    Good post!