Community schools funding safe, Cowichan school board assures

A group of concerned Chemainus and Crofton parents descended on the Cowichan Valley School District board room May 5, prepared to defend their community school program against the possibility of cuts.

A letter from the board of the community schools association to Board of Education Chair Candace Spilsbury clearly indicated that local people had been talking.

It said that "potential cuts to the funding that has been generously been provided by SD79 in the past would mean an end to our community school as we know it. Without funding our community and our student body would be at a great loss to continue to provide services to our students in an area where services are very limited. The impact our Community School has made on our students is felt by so many children and families."

However, once at the meeting, they discovered there were no cuts planned.

Spilsbury had an announcement even before a delegation began to speak.

"There seems to be some questions in your minds about your funding next year and I just want to be clear that the board has made no change to the funding from this year to next year. Just so you know," she said.

The group then went on to explain that the many community programs that are run out of Chemainus Elementary Community School give the support of a community centre to a wide area that doesn’t have one and also "provide a safety net" particularly for a population that includes "a larger than average number of vulnerable children."

With judicious use of grants, the association has been able to boost their available money considerably, offering more than 40 activities, including both feeding and recreational programs.

After their presentation, they were thanked for their hard work.

During question period at the end of the meeting, Spilsbury was asked what had whipped up so much concern about the program.

"It’s a bit perplexing to us as well," Spilsbury said.

The only time the board mentioned the community schools was at a recent meeting where the trustees discussed a request for a grant from the Community Options Society, she continued.

Schools Superintendent Joe Rhodes said he’d had a talk last fall with community school coordinator Wendy Lambert "to discuss the Community Links funding, which has been fairly static, and the pressures for food programming across the district, which have been increasing. The primary reason for the grant is to support kids in poverty needs. There’s been increasing pressure. Traditionally we’ve had a couple of places where that pressure was intense and we’ve supported it but that pressure is growing across the district.

"Community Links funds at least part of the coordinator position. So we did have an honest conversation, saying that we did not know what would happen. We weren’t sure how long we would be able to sustain it so we were informing Wendy that the pressures were changing. At this point, when we went through [preparing the budget] the decision was to sustain the funding. But it is a year by year process and as pressures change so they get revisited again."

There are a total of 14 schools around the district offering some kind of support for student nutrition through various methods of funding.

"That’s nearly every school," Rhodes said.