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Board scraps special education cut

A proposal to save $64,000 by not providing special education services to 19 year olds as they transition into adult programs has been scrapped by the New Westminster school board as part of its proposed budget deficit recovery plan.

With the district facing a potential $2.2 million deficit for the 2012-13 school year, superintendent John Woudzia presented a plan in December that included the cut which would have affected four students this year finishing their final term with the district.

At the time, trustee Lisa Graham warned the board that provincial legislation entitled the students to the program and the district would be putting itself in danger legally if it went through with the plan. She also said it would reflect poorly on the district. Her motion in December to remove the proposal from the table was shot down by the rest of the board receiving support only from trustee Jonina Campbell. But on Tuesday, the board decided to eliminate it from its proposed list of deficit-reduction budget items.

“I guess when they did a little more diving into it, they found out they couldn’t do it,” said Graham. “It’s a relief.”

She said it wouldn’t have been fair to force such an abrupt end for the students and their families.

“My concern too was it would make us subject to legal action. I know if it was my child I would be stepping up right away,” said Graham, who has had a son that graduated from the district’s special education programs. “Most parents I know are pretty sharp when it comes to things like this. You have to be by the time you reach the time for graduation. You learn how to advocate for your child.”

Board chair Michael Ewen said he was under the impression the province provided funding for all students for 13 years and is curious to know when the rule was changed.

In any case, he said, when the actual decision would have been made he wouldn’t have voted for it. He said he also doesn’t support removing $16,000 from the district’s $22,000 May Day budget as proposed by Woudzia.

“I’m not going to vote to cancel May Day, not for the little bit of money it is,” said Ewen. “[But] this is the administration doing their job looking to find every little bit to save money possible.”

The board will be making further decisions on its proposed deficit recovery program at its committee-of-the-whole meeting at the New Westminster secondary library this coming Tuesday and at its monthly meeting at city hall on Jan. 29.

Ewen said he hopes to get the big decisions—such as receiving $450,000 for the sale of a district-owned property in Queensborough and postponing a $250,000 contribution to a new skatepark when New Westminster secondary is replaced—out of the way in the first meeting.

“We want to hit the big ones first. That will give us a clear indication what we will have to go after. I’m hoping to do that next Tuesday,” said Ewen. “We’ll work through it and find a solution. I actually think it’s closer than we think. If we do the big items like I’ve suggested then it’s just down to four or five items.”

 

• The board also voted unanimously to send a letter to Education Minister Don McRae saying given its deficit issues (it also has an accumulated $2.8 million deficit from previous years in addition to the one looming for the current school year) it wouldn’t be able to fulfil his request for districts to free up funding to pay for the cost of salary increases.

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