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School cutbacks no easy decision: vice-chair

Enrollment has been on the decline in the district for the past ten years, but vice-chair Chris Coers says elementary schools—like Armstrong Elementary—are finally starting to show signs of stabilization. Highschools on the other hand are in "pretty rough shape."
April 12, 2013 - 8:41 AM


UPDATE: 5 p.m. April 11, 2013

Recent cutbacks to programs and teaching positions were simply common sense, according to School District 83's vice chair.

"We have fewer students coming in than are leaving the system, and we're funded by the government on a per student basis," Chris Coers says. "We just don't have the dollars to keep everything."

On Tuesday, the board decided to reduce teaching positions by 12 full time equivalents, and cut funds for adult education programs to address a $1.8 million shortfall in the next school year.

Coers says it was a tough decision to make. "But there was nothing else we could do. We had to balance our budget."

She says the enrollment squeeze is happening all over the province as families wait longer to have kids, then have fewer of them.

"We probably lost 25% of our student population (in North Okanagan-Shuswap) over the last 10 years," she says.

The board had expected things to stabilize by 2014, but Coers isn't optimistic. She's hoping things give a little by 2016.

"We're starting to see babies here and there and everywhere, but they won't be going to school for some time," she says.

Keeping families, and their babies, in the area is another concern. Coers says many young people have moved in search of better paying jobs.

"Salmon Arm is the biggest business centre in the district, and I don't think it has a lot of opportunity for young families. Affordability, housing, the economy: it all impacts education."

While elementary school enrollment has begun to show signs of leveling out, Coers says secondary schools are in pretty rough shape.

"At the end of the day, we have $1.8 million to find and we're already running pretty close to the edge. We don't have a lot of wiggle room," Coers says.

"Obviously we don't want to cut programs and positions, but these are natural reductions when you have fewer students. We've had to lay people off before, this isn't new."

The school district still has to pay the same fees for things like electricity, heat and fuel for buses—things that don't fluctuate with 240 fewer students.

"And the province doesn't help us out with that."

She says the cuts didn't just come at the teaching level. Administration positions have been rearranged so that principals and vice-principals take on more classroom teaching time.

"We're trying to organize everyone as efficiently as we can, and keep drastic impacts to a minimum."

She says it's harder to reduce administrational jobs because "the paperwork stays the same" even with a couple hundred less students.

She knows everyone will have a strong opinion about the cuts, including the North Okanagan-Shuswap Teachers Association.

"Our job is to look at the big picture, and just do the best we can with the dollars we have."

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call (250)309-5230.


12:45 p.m. April 11, 2013

A financial crunch is forcing the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District to reduce staff and cut programs.

District trustees made the decision Tuesday in order to prepare for a $1.8 million shortfall in the coming school year because of a projected loss of 240 students.

The district is chipping away at the $1.8 million in several ways.

Principal/ vice-principal administrative time will be reduced so they can spend more time teaching. This will lower the number of teachers needed and save an estimated $30,000.

Three education assistants will be let go, saving an estimated $100,000.

A dozen teaching positions will be cut: 3.6 full time equivalents (FTE) at the elementary level, 6.5 at the middle and secondary levels, as well as two learning resource positions. This downsizing has estimated savings of $1,128,000.

Positions will also be reduced in distributed learning, education outreach and adult learning programs.

The APEX program at Salmon Arm Secondary will be restructures and moved from its current location to allow the trimming of one teaching position valued at around $94,000.

"Preliminary staff reductions will need to be greater than what is required to balance the budget as the district needs to allow for unanticipated student movements that happen each year," reads a budget report released April 9.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call (250)309-5230.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
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