Trustee candidates need to be ready to cut

Those thinking about running for election to fill a seat as a school trustee in Cowichan better be ready to talk cuts.

The Cowichan Valley has been without an elected school board since 2012, when the entire board was fired by the province for failing to submit a balanced budget. Since then, the task of running the district has fallen onto a single, provincially appointed trustee from the Mainland.

The previous board got fired because a slim majority of them couldn’t get their heads and hearts around making cuts to programs and closing schools to come up with figures to satisfy the province.

The province provides funding to districts on a per student basis, and Cowichan’s head count has been declining.

That mean less money and hard decisions about what the district can afford.

Last year, the provincially appointed trustee eliminated the district’s middle schools and closed some schools down.

But we now know that will not be the end of the cutting.

The enrolment, and thus the budget, figures have still not stabilized and the district is facing a more than $1 million shortfall again this year. More shortfalls are on the horizon.

The province’s funding protection is in place now, which is the only reason the figures aren’t even more dire.

But that protection can’t be expected to last forever, and eventually there’s going to be a big collision between funding and enrolment.

The funding protection has just put that off a bit, particularly if the fundamental funding problems are not addressed in the next couple of years.

Those problems are going to fall squarely on the shoulders of the new crop of school trustees the community will be voting into office in the fall.

If you’re not willing to make some tough cuts, this is probably not an election you want to throw your hat into the ring for.

While we admire the conviction of the school trustees who stuck to their beliefs and refused to make the cuts necessary for a balanced budget in 2012, their stand has not produced the results they might have hoped for (the allocation of more funding, or the changing of the funding formula). A similar stand next year would clearly gain the district nothing.

The province is prepared to fire an entire school board. Things have run pretty well in the absence of the elected body. It would be a shame if too much strife led the province to decide an elected body was no longer needed, since we believe it is vital that decisions affecting our young citizens are made in our community, by our community.

So at the end of the day, we need representatives who will fight, yes, but who will also make the tough choices.

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