Dear Committee Members:
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to participate in the Budget 2021 consultation and share with you our views and priorities for the upcoming provincial budget.
As we have done so in previous years, this brief is presented to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services jointly by the Board of Education of School District No. 38 (Richmond), the Richmond District Parents Association, the Richmond Teachers Association, CUPE Local 716, the Richmond Association of School Administrators and the Richmond Management and Professional Staff. We are proud of our collective commitment in Richmond to cooperate, collaborate and advocate with all of our stakeholders in ensuring a safe, accepting and engaging community that promotes student success and inspires a passion for lifelong learning. Our vision is that the Richmond School District is the best place to learn and lead.
Our joint presentation advocates not only for the needs of our learners in Richmond but also for the K-12 public education system in British Columbia. Our recommendations that we are presenting are focused on four key messages; increased funding to support vulnerable students, a fair and equitable public education funding formula, continued investment in seismically safe schools and support for health & safety of students and staff.
1. Increased Funding to Support Vulnerable Students
Significant demands are being placed on school districts to provide needed services to support students with unique learning, social emotional needs and students dealing with mental health. The K-12 Education funding model review identified inclusive education and support of vulnerable learners as an area that needed to be adequately funded. Inclusive education is a concept of including vulnerable students and students with diverse and inclusive learning needs into a regular classroom setting in a manner that supports their individual success. While we strongly support an inclusive model, we believe that funding is currently not adequate to support it. The Ministry of Education introduced a new Equity of Opportunity supplement but eliminated the Vulnerable Student supplement with the 2020/2021 Operating Grant announcement on March 12, 2020. As a result, in Richmond, with this change to the funding allocation model for 2020/2021, the district’s vulnerable student funding decreased from the prior year by approximately $846,000 while enrolment of vulnerable students continues to grow. The Richmond School district provides highly specialized learning opportunities to support students requiring individualized support in alternate settings to meet their learning needs. To be successful, these programs offer smaller class sizes and increased staff-student ratios well above current Ministry guidelines and funding. These programs enroll students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 with mental health, behavioral challenges, and developmental disabilities providing specialized support from learning resource teachers, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and mental health clinicians amongst others. Most of these programs are located in schools to allow for a more natural transition back to neighborhood schools based on student needs. School districts are experiencing significant challenges in supporting students with mental health issues and more funding for resources, training and staff are needed in this area. The Ministry of Education has asked school districts to prioritize the support of vulnerable learners during the pandemic and we do see an ongoing need to expand mental health supports for a few years as we learn and respond as a system to the social/emotional impacts of the pandemic.
In addition, a significant proportion of students with special needs are supported significantly by Education Assistants (EA) as front line support to ensure they can attend school and are safe. There continues to be increased demand for EAs to support our vulnerable students so that they can be included in a regular classroom. School districts across the province are experiencing shortages as demand for EAs far exceeds current supply. There are significant recruitment challenges in attracting qualified EAs due to current compensation levels and conditions of work. Funding is needed to support recruitment and retention of EAs including support for EA training/resources and increased compensation. In Richmond, we have created our own training program called the Richmond Education Assistant Program (REAP) that provides a certification training program for individuals wanting to become EAs with opportunities to be hired by the school district on program completion. This is one example of the innovative ways we are currently addressing the shortages of EAs and the challenges we face in recruitment and retention.
2. Fair and Equitable Funding Formula
The Ministry of Education completed a K-12 funding model review which included a report containing 22 recommendations developed by an independent review panel. The intent was to create a more fair and equitable funding formula that can ensure that school districts can meet the needs of all learners. The Ministry has now begun to implement changes to the funding allocation model and to our dismay with the 2020/2021 Operating Grant announcement, there were several changes that resulted in negative impacts to metro urban school districts.
Funding to offset the impact of the new Employer Health Tax which was being received in 2019/2020 separately from the operating grant was effectively cut when the Ministry included only a portion of this within the operating grant. With the introduction of the new Equity of Opportunity supplement, the Ministry eliminated the Vulnerable Student supplement and reduced the Education Plan supplement. As a result, the Richmond School District lost $846,000 in vulnerable student funding that was being used to support our most vulnerable students. Funding changes to the Unique Geographic factors supplements in the Operating Grant have also effectively shifted funding from larger metro school districts to rural districts. In total, with the recent Ministry Operating Grant announcement, the Richmond School District lost over $2 million in annual ongoing operating funds.
Provincial funding for K-12 accounts for 88% of our total school district’s budgeted revenues. With larger metro school districts having greater access to other revenue sources such as International Students, Facilities Rentals and Investment Income, the reliance on these revenue sources to support our students with special needs and vulnerable student programs, inflationary cost pressures, exempt staff compensation increases as well as enhancing our regular school programs has been impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic. This is now clearly creating a problem for many urban school districts who were hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ministry of Education funding allocation changes.
Richmond supports a new funding allocation model that aims to provide funding that is responsive, equitable, stable, predictable, flexible, transparent and accountable. The Richmond School District believes that the funding allocation model for public education should cover all costs of delivering educational services. Stable, predictable funding should cover all inflationary cost increases rather than downloading costs onto school districts. The funding allocation model should also fully fund all costs related to negotiated collective agreements and exempt staff compensation increases which are not currently funded. We strongly believe that changes to the funding model should not negatively impact school districts and should fully support meeting the needs of all our students.
3. Continued Support and Investment in Seismically Safe Schools
The current Provincial Government has supported the need and investment in ensuring schools are seismically safe. In Richmond, due to unstable soil conditions, 34 of our 48 schools have been evaluated to be of high seismic risk. The Ministry of Education has established a Richmond Project Office to facilitate acceleration of seismic upgrading approval and funding for high risk schools in Richmond which we fully support and welcome. To date, we still have 25 schools requiring seismic upgrading and additional funding targeted to accelerating the timeline will ensure our schools are seismically safe as soon as possible which is our number one priority.
4. Support for Health & Safety of Students and Staff
To ensure the safety of our students and staff, we advocate for the Provincial Government to support school districts during this COVID-19 Pandemic. The current COVID-19 pandemic has served as a reminder of the importance of cleaning and hand hygiene to reduce the transmission of viruses and diseases and ensure our school environments are safe. The school district has been impacted in lost revenues as well as increased costs for implementing enhanced health and safety measures. Provincial funding is needed for costs related to enhanced cleaning staff, supplies, hygiene, retrofitting of buses, other environmental measures and implementation of technology to support remote learning.
In addition, on-going funding for emergency preparedness is needed for school districts to adequately plan and develop emergency response plans and for on-going training and supplies. The COVID-19 Pandemic has taught us that we need to be prepared for any unanticipated event that could impact the health and safety of our students and staff.
In conclusion, we would like to thank the Select Standing Committee for the opportunity to present our joint brief. We appreciate the committee hearing our views and hope that our key messages will be given consideration as part of the 2021 provincial budget. Trustees, staff, stakeholders and parents in Richmond are committed to ensuring that we continue to have a strong public education system and that the Richmond School District is the best place to learn and lead.
Ken Hamaguchi, Chairperson
On Behalf of the Board of Education (Richmond)
Liz Baverstock, President
Richmond Teachers’ Association
Ian Hillman, President
CUPE Local 716
Mark Hoath, President
Richmond Association of School Administrators
Dionne McFie, President
Richmond District Parents Association
Kelly Gibson, Co-Chair,
Richmond Management & Professional Staff