KATHERINE ENGQVIST: Students bear the brunt of cuts

School teachers, administrators, PAC members do a lot with a little

I was getting an ice cream the other day and paid with cash, something I rarely do. I was surprised when the cashier had to get a supervisor after she hit the wrong button and the till wouldn’t tell her how much change to give back.

As someone that has been able to count back change since before I was able to read, I was completely blown away and left standing with my mouth wide open.

But it’s no wonder our teenagers are graduating without these fundamental life skills when the province repeatedly asks our school districts to do some impossible math to get budgets to balance.

As a reporter, I spend a lot of time in our local schools and speaking with teachers. I am constantly blown away by how much they do with so little.

I was recently at a school that could hardly afford paper, yet the principal spends her weekends going around to garage sales to see if she can find items like benches and picnic tables so her students can have an outdoor classroom. She doesn’t want them to go without anything, budget be damned.

It broke my heart to hear that some students at this Langford elementary school arrive hungry because they are not getting enough to eat at home. Again, the school has been scrambling, but makes sure there are some snacks by the front door for any child that needs them.

While this says a lot about our society and some fundamental supports that many are not receiving, it also makes me wonder why there isn’t more room in our schools’ budgets for programs such as these.

Then I remember that the Sooke School District just had to cut $1.7 million worth of student aid services from its annual operating budget.

The West Shore is the fastest growing area in Greater Victoria. Our two fancy new high schools were over capacity the day they opened their doors. But this wasn’t the district’s fault. They knew the schools wouldn’t be big enough to support the growth of the region, but again, they had to work with the little they were given.

They did their best and some solutions were targeted in the design phase. Royal Bay was built with the intention of adding another wing. When that will happen, we don’t know. Until that time, portables will dot the view of the ocean.

The district has also spent the last school year dealing with a new software system, which to say the least has been a transitional nightmare for some teachers. Again, the district had to come up with the funds on its own to train teachers on the new software. Money also had to be scraped together to transfer students’ individual education plans to the new system.

While all of that data is being transferred, some of our most vulnerable students could be going without the supports they need. Our teachers are living in fear that their students are falling through the cracks and they don’t know about it.

They used to make children pick up rocks at Belmont as punishment. Now it seems the Ministry is making them squeeze those rocks to see what will come out. Hopefully, someone will find a piece of coal, squeeze it hard enough and turn it into a diamond. That might be the only way for our children to get the services they need in the public school setting.

In the meantime, there doesn’t seem to be any room in the budget for students.

Katherine Engqvist is a reporter with the Goldstream News Gazette.



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