“There’s a number of things that we could have done, but I am not supportive of reducing even one teaching position. I believe we could have found those cost reductions in other fashions.”
— Brandon School Division trustee Glen Kruck
Decisions that have the potential to negatively affect a large number of people are not easy to make for those given the responsibility to do so.
Nor should they be.
In considering the Brandon School Division’s budget for 2014-15, board trustees were facing pressure on at least two fronts — parents and students concerned over the quality of education, and concerned ratepayers who are tired of their ever-increasing tax burden due to rising costs and higher teacher and staff salaries.
Both voices have made their points of view loud and clear, and both voices are essentially right.
On Monday, a majority of board trustees stuck to their guns and voted in favour of the proposed budget — without making any new additions or amendments. This means 11 full-time teaching positions will be eliminated in the upcoming school year and taxpayers will face another 2.9 per cent increase.
We also note an interesting statistic coming out of that board meeting. In the last few years, the school board has added about 96 teaching positions, said board chair Mark Sefton.
On the surface, that appears to be a staggering number of hires in a short period of time. But there are several reasons why the division felt it necessary to create these positions, and they’re all arguably defensible.
Of those 96 teaching positions, nearly half were required due to pressures from enrolment growth as hundreds of new students from immigrant parents have entered the local school system at all grade levels.
As a result, the demographics that make up any given classroom in the BSD have changed. Decades ago, the majority of students were the product of mostly Canadian-born, dual-parent families. Class sizes of 35 students were the norm, but the need for individualization within the classroom was less so.
In recent years, however, needs have dramatically shifted in favour of smaller classrooms that provide students with an enhanced teacher-student relationship. The fact is, more students need extra help to get through the system, a fact often lost on the general populace.
Sefton says that even before the provincial government instituted its questionable K-3 class size mandate, Brandon trustees were attempting to pare down class sizes to improve the teacher-student ratio. Thus the need for more teachers also increased, specifically in teaching early literacy, numeracy and English as an additional language.
“The division made a concerted effort to decrease the number of students in front of a teacher, as the student composition has become more complex,” Sefton told the Sun.
While we can blame the province for unnecessarily enforcing a class-limit mandate that has only served to increase costs for school divisions such as Brandon’s — and we do — the fact is trustees also believe that more teachers and smaller class sizes provide a significant benefit to students. In general, the board has acted on that opinion over the years.
In this respect, we understand, if not agree with trustee Glen Kruck, who presented two amendments on Monday night, including a motion to cut into the division’s maintenance budget in order to save a number of teaching positions. His was the sole vote against adopting the budget.
We have no doubt the loss of 11 teaching staff positions in our local high schools will be felt. But faced with rising public pressure from taxpayers, the board could not continue to ignore the burden being placed on Brandon residents.
This, of course, will make absolutely nobody perfectly happy, which means it’s likely the best course of action.