Funding cut will destroy program, says coordinator

The school district has slashed half the funding they provide for the Chemainus Crofton Community Schools program and parents are being urged to come out to an emergency meeting Thursday to call for a second look.

"This is the raw reality of it," said coordinator Wendy Lambert. "They want to get rid of us. That’s my gut feeling. Our association will no longer exist as we know it."

Starting at Chemainus 14 years ago, the outreach has run for 10 years with Lambert in the lead.

"We operate with a starting budget from the school district for the coordinator position, some office staff and some office supplies. Then we earn money from grants and user fees for some programs," she said.

The program has been receiving $56,000 annually from the Cowichan Valley School District but as of the new fiscal year, July 1, that will drop to only $28,000.

There is no room in that amount to fund a full-time position.

"It is brutal. I can’t believe it. I found out about this last Thursday. I got an email from the secretary of the Secretary Treasurer. After which, I thoroughly looked through the budget again and it doesn’t mention us in there.

"There was no discussion whatsoever. No calling you in to tell you about it. No preliminary. Mind you, I didn’t go through the budget before, but there are some things you just trust.

"It is impossible for me (or anyone), as coordinator, to run and supervise a full slate of programs and activities as we have been doing [on the reduced budget]," she said. "We are facing a loss of our Community School Program."

The emergency meeting is scheduled for this Thursday, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Chemainus Elementary Community School.

"I’m hoping that the community will come out and say, ‘No! I’ve been part of Mother Goose or I’ve been part of Roots of Empathy’," she said. "Those two particular programs that I do reach across the entire school district. They’re not just in Chemainus/Crofton.

"The kind of programming that we do would also be very beneficial to Lake Cowichan, which is vulnerable in many ways," she suggested, referring to a recent announcement by Island Health’s Paul Hasselback that children there were not as ready for school as kids in other areas.

Lambert listed Parent-Child Mother Goose, Big Brother/Sister in-school mentors, the Rainbows program, family dances, Boys and Girls Club Chemainus, kidZsummerCamp, Spring Break camp, Harmony friends, received financial subsidies for low income parents, breakfast, lunch or snack school programs, Hubert the bus, free lunchtime art classes, school immunizations, hockey after school, community garden and many more programs as all part of the community schools experience in both Chemainus and Crofton.

A major difficulty is that program planning is done well ahead.

"July 1 is the starting of a new fiscal year and programs are set to go for summer. It’s all in place already. I’ve got summer students set up. I’ve got my grant, which is federal money, for two summer students and high school assistant."

Most of the association’s budget comes through grants.

"Working on that is part of my daily activity. We have a total budget of over $200,000 here. I’m just about to go into a meeting with people about offering a fitness program here. It’s fantastic but what on earth am I going to tell them now?" she asked.

Reached for comment late Tuesday, Bob Harper, district secretary treasurer, said that the district is lining up a meeting to look at the proposed cuts.

"We want to talk with them and see how we can make this work," he said.