High school PAC issues plea for parents to get involved

Stephen Bruyneel, chair of the New Westminster secondary parent advisory council, says the current financial troubles at the school district mean this is an especially important time for parents to get involved.  - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
Stephen Bruyneel, chair of the New Westminster secondary parent advisory council, says the current financial troubles at the school district mean this is an especially important time for parents to get involved.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

During the past month, there have been several instances when Stephen Bruyneel will be at a minor hockey game in New Westminster or coaching his daughter’s Glenbrook middle school basketball team when another NWSS parent will come up to him.

“I didn’t know it was this bad,” they’d say to Bruyneel, who is chair of the high school’s parent advisory council (PAC).

Bruyneel had been quoted in local papers about the school’s dire financial situation following a warning from principal Phil Cookson. Bruyneel said although there had been media reports on the school district dealing with deficits, many people didn’t take notice until Cookson wrote in the NWSS November newsletter about how the school’s operating budget for 2013-14 had already been exhausted because it had been reduced to $800,000 in 2012-13 to just $65,000 this year.

“Parents really didn’t know,” said Bruyneel last week.

In the newsletter, Cookson urged parents to attend the PAC’s next meeting so they can become informed about the situation, and the possible future consequences, as well as to provide input to the board of education. But Bruyneel is worried parents won’t come because historically only about seven to 10 parents show up for the PAC’s monthly meetings, a number that includes members of the executive—a disappointing turnout considering the school has a student enrolment of about 2,300.

“This is really an important one,” said Bruyneel of the meeting which will be held in the NWSS library on Thursday, Jan. 16, 7 p.m. “We’re concerned about the lack of awareness and people won’t show up … We’re concerned about the situation and what that might mean for potential impacts down the road.”

Bruyneel pointed out at the last PAC meeting, then-board chair Michael Ewen couldn’t give the parents a date for when the 2014-15 budget will be determined. Parents need to know what programs will survive and which ones won’t, said Bruyneel, so they can decide whether to keep their children at NWSS for 2014-15 or send them elsewhere.

“As a parent myself if I know if my son or daughter has a specific interest in the school—arts, band, an academic program, athletics—I’d want to know if it’s going to be made available sooner than later,” he said.

Bruyneel emphasized he isn’t advocating parents abandon the New Westminster school system. However, he said, for example, a student going into Grade 12 interested in a particular program doesn’t want to find out too late that it won’t be available. “You’ve got to make the call for what’s best for your child.”

Bruyneel said he realizes academics are basic to a teenager’s education but often arts or athletic programs “are the reason they stay in school, and if that gets them to graduate, then that’s important.”

If the district can tell parents what programs need finances to continue then they can get going raising money to keep them, said Bruyneel. “Right now, nobody knows.”

He added parents have to realize how bad the situation could become because the district has already made severe cuts just to balance the 2013-14 budget, and will likely have to make more because New Westminster has to begin retiring its accumulated debt of nearly $5 million starting with the 2014-15 budget.

Bruyneel said any parent who comes to the meeting will be allowed two minutes to speak.

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