New party petitions Burnaby trustees to 'reach out'

With the civic election six months away, a new political party in Burnaby has taken its first shot at the school board.

The Burnaby First Coalition said in a press release that it "unites a diverse political spectrum" to oppose the incumbent Burnaby Citizens Association (BCA), which has swept all seats on council and school board in the last two elections.

It is made up of members of the Green Party, Team Burnaby and Burnaby Parents Voice, the latter which formed in 2011 to oppose the school board's policy to combat homophobia.

Burnaby First has launched a petition calling on Burnaby school trustees to "reach out" to families who are not enrolled in local public schools as a way of increasing enrolment.

"Attraction and retention of local families must be top priorities," said Heather Leung, a former Parents Voice activist. "We believe that engaging creatively and positively with non-enrolling families is a win-win strategy that will make publicly funded education inclusive and even enhance quality."

The petition says there are 30,474 children aged five to 18 in Burnaby but enrollment in local public schools is only 23,112. It also claims that each student brings in at least $7,142 and an average $9,033 in education ministry funding.

"The enrolment shortfall has caused budget cuts recently, and a $4.5 million deficit is forecast for next year," the press release said. "Increasing enrollment by just 500 students–less than 10 percent of the 'lost children'–would eliminate current budget concerns."

As of Friday afternoon, the petition——had seven supporters.

Burnaby school board chair Baljinder Narang said she doesn't know where the new party is getting its data and numbers from.

For one thing, Burnaby school district provides education to kids aged five to 17, not 18 as Burnaby First claims.

"That in itself throws their numbers out," Narang said.

As for the provincial funding, "just for the record, we are getting $7,843 per student." And Burnaby receives far less than the provincial average.

Narang noted that the party doesn't take into consideration the fact many children from other municipalities attend Burnaby schools for its special programs, such as sports academies, ACE-IT and challenge programs.

"We try and make sure we have the best programs available so that the kids have the choice and they have the motivation to enrol."

And even if more students enrolled in Burnaby, they come with government funding but also with the costs of providing their education, so that would not eliminate the deficit that's been created by inflationary costs, she said.

"We're not depositing the kids in the bank … kids need resources but those resources are to provide the service. I think we would still have challenges for budget."

As for the new party, Narang said, "It's interesting what brings people together because I don't see any philosophical connection in this coalition other than trying to politically challenge the BCA."

She noted that none of the coalition members has raised concerns about enrolment and deficits before now, with an election months away.

Besides the question of what people would be voting for, she said, "Say once they're [elected], are they going to fall apart because they're philosophically unaligned? Then where does the work of the school district go? The school district needs some stability of direction."

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