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Burnaby gets lowest funding per student in B.C.: District

Burnaby school board chair Larry Hayes -
Burnaby school board chair Larry Hayes
— image credit:

Burnaby school district has the lowest provincial funding per student in B.C., said its school board chair Larry Hayes.

"In Burnaby our enrolment is staying quite stable," Hayes said. "We're basically being punished for that."

Hayes was speaking at a town hall meeting on public education funding Thursday night at Schou Education Centre which was co-sponsored by the Burnaby Teachers' Association and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 379.

The district's secretary-treasurer Greg Frank explained in an interview that the figure is the result of adding up all the funding a district receives and dividing it by the number of students.

The provincial average for the current school year is $8,472 per student, while in Burnaby it's $7,565 per student.

The numbers are even more stark when Burnaby is compared to the average of the 18 smallest districts in the province, whose combined population is equal to Burnaby's. Those districts receive an average of $11,604 per student.

Frank said while Coquitlam had the lowest per-pupil funding in the province for a number of years, a couple years ago Burnaby took on that distinction.

He said it's partly due to the province providing additional funding to schools with dropping enrolment, and also funding protection so those districts don't get less money from one year to the next.

Burnaby, the fourth largest district in the province, also doesn't receive much in the way of transportation funding and additional money for heating costs in colder climates, and for districts in more remote areas of B.C.

Its international students don't receive government funding and Burnaby's online students receive less funding than regular full-time students.

Frank, one of the speakers at the meeting, told the audience of about two dozen people that on the surface it appears provincial education funding has kept up with inflation over the past 10 years—until additional costs mandated by Victoria are factored in.

"Then you would find it hasn't."

Such additional costs include negotiated salary increases, full-day kindergarten,  carbon offsets and the software tool to calculate those offsets.

The latest additional cost being downloaded is property insurance which had previously been funded from other government revenue sources, he said. It now has to be absorbed by school districts.

Burnaby school district has increasingly had to turn to other revenue sources to fund its operating budget, which is currently $215 million. Of that, 92 per cent is government funding compared with the provincial average of 95.1 per cent.

Burnaby is making up the difference with sources such as facility rentals ($900,000 a year), investment income ($500,000 annually) and increasingly, international students who pay the full cost of their tuition. The latter is bringing in $11.2 million this year from 800 such students, an increase of $1.3 million from last year when the district had 700 international students.

Without that additional revenue, services would likely have to be cut, Frank said.

Larry Kuehn, director of research for the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said at the meeting that more than $3 billion has already been taken out of the education system in the past 10 years.

"That leaves trustees to make difficult decisions when it's really the province that's underfunding the system," Kuehn said.

When asked whether Burnaby would ever consider closing schools to balance its budget, Hayes said it has never been discussed in his nine years on the board.

Frank noted that the district's longterm enrolment projections show "all of our  existing schools will be needed in the medium to longterm as we go forward.

"We don't have facilities that we believe the enrolment will not be there to keep them open."

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

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