B.C. school districts that have had financial trouble, such as Langley which has cleared up a $13 million deficit in the past few years, won't get extra help from the B.C. government.
Districts will have to find the money to cover contracts that the provincial government agrees to under its Cooperative Gains policy, according to the new education minister.
Langley, through errors and overspending, racked up a $13.25 million deficit. That brought the B.C. Auditor General's office in to oversee its finances in the past few years.
New Westminster is also struggling with a deficit in excess of $4 million and the district has cut eight per cent of its workforce.
Teachers and other staff can receive wage increases if districts find the money elsewhere, the province said. "I'm not going to impose anything on them," said Education Minister Peter Fassbender.
But he's also not expressing sympathy for these districts because "other districts have been able to get there."
"That's for them to work out," he said when asked how they would find the money.
The province has told districts to create savings plans but that it will help districts with advice. "We are still in fiscal challenging times," he said during a back-to-school press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Fassbender said a key goal is government labour harmony within the school system.
"I'm very optimistic," he said. "I believe we can find a solution... I want to see a school year without any disruption."
CUPE and teachers are without contracts heading back to school. Fassbender would not comment on what would happen if either group goes off the job and if other unions respect their picket lines.
"We have one plan, that is to come to a settlement and avoid any disruption," he said.
He said his ministry is working with districts to handle changes in enrolment, including
those few districts like Surrey, that are experiencing growth, and that the province monitors population and student projections as part of its planning.
Fassbender said the key is going to be using resources wisely. That may include sharing services and increasing use of technology to deliver education in new ways.
"We recognize the world changes very quickly," he said.
The emphasis of the new BC Education Plan is individualized learning or helping students learn in the best way for them. Details of the plan are made public (on the ministry website) as the government finalizes them, he said.
When asked about skills training, he said his ministry works with others such as advanced education and labour to plan for the future. The province will need tens of thousands of skilled workers in the coming years.
Fassbender said he would like to see schools start the conversation with students in elementary school about careers, and not wait until high school.
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