B.C. Premier Christy Clark has aggravated school trustees — and once again motivated teachers to lash back on social media — by calling $54 million in district cuts "low-hanging fruit."
The recent provincial budget directed the 60 school districts in B.C. to slash $29 million this year, and another $25 million next year from their budgets.
Clark suggested that school boards follow the example of health authorities by blending administrative programs, reported The Times Colonist.
“For heaven’s sakes, if the health-care system can do it, if the advanced-education system can do it, so can local school governments,” Clark told reporters. “And taxpayers deserve that savings. It’s low-hanging fruit and I know that they’ll be able to find it.”
B.C. School Trustees’ Association president Teresa Rezansoff, who said districts have already amalgamated many services, was not impressed by Clark's comment.
“It also is not a fair recognition of the really tough decisions and hard choices that have already been made in school districts across the province," Rezansoff told the Times Colonist.
The reference also angered teachers, who have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #lowhangingfruit and tongue-in-cheek suggestions like sitting students three to a desk.
Public school teachers also vented their frustration on social media during the bitter labour dispute last year.
Education Minister Peter Fassbender said the cuts are limited to administrative budgets, and don't extend to classroom learning services, reported The Province.
But school trustees keep pointing out that they've been slashing for years.
“After the teachers’ contract settlement, none of us thought we would have to keep scraping the cupboards to keep cutting," Patti Bacchus of the Vancouver school board told The Province.
An editorial in The Times Colonist called on the province to be more proactive:
"Perhaps the Ministry of Education should do a detailed study of school-district operations to determine best practices, to see where savings could be achieved. Then Clark could say: 'We want you to rein in costs, and we have figured out how you can do it and we will help you.' That would be better than the top-down approach, which appears to be: 'We want you to cut costs and we don’t care how you do it.'"
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