"Everything" is on the table as Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school trustees face a possible $6 million deficit for next year, according to trustee Ken Clarkson.
The former board chair put forward a motion at last week's board meeting to urge boards of education across the province to take "collective action" to protest the underfunding of education, as many boards across the province face deficits.
Clarkson pointed out that 90 per cent of the budget goes to wages, so there isn't much room in cutting the budget.
"The last time we faced this, it was a $2 million deficit, and we closed two schools," Clarkson said.
He said the board is facing a deficit because of more downloaded costs, for example, higher medical premiums and benefits.
"We can't maintain the quality of education without more funding," Clarkson said.
A few years ago, when facing a budget shortfall, the summer reading program, Reding Racers, was cut.
"That was a program that no one - nobody - wanted to see cut, but we had no choice," Clarkson said.
He added that the school district will have to consider this time whether it's going to be something like sports or drama.
The school district maintains lower than average class sizes, and if those are raised to save money, it will mean laying off teachers.
But to cut the budget, "we're looking at everything," Clarkson said.
Clarkson pointed out that while the school district has been waiting for several years for the Ministry of Education to provide the capital funding to build a new school in Albion - the current one is over capacity and homes are continuously being built in the area - with the current deficit, it would put a strain on the budget to operate it.
"We would not have any more money to run that school," Clarkson said.
The school district has put out an online survey to ask people to prioritize how they would cut the budget, something that prompted the staff at one Maple Ridge school to write to The TIMES (see full letter online at www.mrtimes. com, search for "Everything").
The teachers at Maple Ridge Elementary said the survey asks parents and employee groups to "further weaken our increasingly broken-down system."
"We feel that this survey creates divisiveness between employee groups, parents and student groups who rely on a cooperative environment for the educational system to be effective," the letter states.
The teachers ask the board to reconsider making more cuts and "instead take a stronger stand and demand adequate funding from the Ministry of Education."
In response to the criticism, however, Clarkson said that he'd rather be criticized for consulting too much.
"[The survey] wasn't the ideal instrument but it forces you to prioritize," he said, adding that there have been 1,200 responses.
In the past, when open houses have been held to gather feedback on the budget, very few people have come to them.
This is the first time a survey has been done like this online for the budget, and Clarkson said the technology is not yet fully developed.
Senior school district staff will bring back recommendations to the board of education in the spring on how the budget can be cut to address the funding shortfall.
Another motion approved by the board last week, also put forward by Clarkson, was to endorse a campaign by the B.C.
School Trustees Association to make education an election issue in the upcoming May provincial election.
"Last election education wasn't even an issue," Clarkson said. "Hopefully it will be this time."
Locally, the board of education would like to see an all-candidates meeting about education.