The school district budget is already tight, so the local board of education is refusing to look for more savings, despite a recent request from the ministry to do so.
The Ministry of Education is calling for a "cooperative gains man-date," which means school districts have to find more savings without reducing service levels or off-loading costs.
In a letter to the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Board of Education, the minister asked for a savings plan that is "real and measurable" but cannot reduce the level of service to the public.
The mandate is directed at negotiations going on with CUPE workers, who provide support services in the school district, for example, special education assistants.
However, if this mandate is extended to other contracts, that would mean a further cost of $3 million to the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district over the next three years.
School board chair Mike Murray said the school district is already a lean organization and many cuts have been made over the past few years. He said, for example, that schools have been closed and teaching, administration, and support staff have been cut.
And the school district is expecting other upcoming cost pressures, Murray added.
This year, the school district relied on a surplus from the previous year to balance the budget, but that's not something Murray would like to see happen often.
"You are never sure you'll have a surplus in the future," he said.
With the new B.C. Education Plan, there are improvements that need to be made in the school district, Murray said, offering as an example new technology that needs to be put in place - which also has costs attached to it, he pointed out.
When he visits schools, "not all schools have all the resources we'd like them to have," Murray added, and many rely on parent fundraising to provide things like computers.
While the board of education understands that the provincial government is dealing with a tight budget, Murray said, the trustees do support reasonable, modest increases for employees, especially after a couple years of zero per cent increases.
But that can't be done if budgets are cut further, he added.
The letter about the cooperative gains mandate, dated Dec. 3 and sent to board chairs across the province, came from the Minister of Education, Don McRae.
In addition to not reducing services, the minister asked the boards of education to ensure saving weren't generated by "transferring costs to the public."
Murray said he has heard from board chairs across the province that other boards of education are also refusing to find more savings, so he doesn't think the cooperative gains mandate will survive.
The suggestions the minister gave in his letter for savings were "operational cost reductions, increased efficiencies, service redesign, increases in revenue and other initiatives - including from within collective agreements."
In response to the request for savings, the board wrote to the minister to explain why they can't come up with more saving, citing upcoming increases in the teacher pension plan, the transition back to the provincial sales tax, as well as the impact from using the $3.19 million surplus from the 2011/2012 budget.
George Serra, Maple Ridge Teachers' Association president said he wasn't surprised at the demand for more savings, adding that costs have been slashed during the past 10 years.
"I was in shock that they were shocked," Serra said about the board's reaction to the ministry's demand.
The ministry is requesting the board's savings plan be submitted by mid January.