More money needed to operate: Richmond school board

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Funding for the Richmond School District isn’t keeping up with inflation and isn’t adequate for needed maintenance and seismic upgrading.

This is the message the Richmond Board of Education is sending to the provincial government, outlined in a letter to the provincial finance committee.

Not only has inflation caused about $1 million in extra costs for next year, the board – along with two unions and representatives of other groups – points out it is using $12 million of its own reserves to do ventilation upgrades in schools, something they think should be paid for by the province.

The three areas highlighted in the letter are inadequate operating grants, a slow rollout of seismic upgrades and inadequate funding for regular school maintenance.

The school district is facing a $3.9 million budget shortfall next year, and this means some staff will have to be laid off, such as five library technicians.

This follows a $7.2 million budget shortfall in 2021/22.

“…the Ministry’s operating grants are neither adequate nor sustainable to support school districts in maintaining appropriate service levels in the classrooms and meet our students’ needs,” reads the letter, signed by board chair Sandra Nixon, RTA president Liz Baverstock, CUPE loc. 716 president Ian Hillman, Mike Murray, president of the school district’s association of administrators, Richmond District Parents Association president Andrew Scallion and Kelly Gibson, who represents Richmond Management & Professional Staff.

Furthermore, there were no new seismic upgrades announced over the past two years, while only two were announced in the coming year.

But of the 35 schools in Richmond that are considered high risk in the event of an earthquake, only 13 have been upgraded or are approved by the Ministry of Education for upgrades.

“… there is great concern in our community that the goal of seismically upgrading all potentially vulnerable schools in Richmond by the 2030 target will not be reached,” the letter reads.

The school board also thinks funding for necessary maintenance is inadequate, saying 2-2.5 per cent of building replacement value is needed annually to keep schools in good condition.

The school district estimates it needs between $11 and $14 million annually “to address vital electrical, facility, site and mechanical upgrades, roof replacement and functional improvement.”

“The level of the annual facility renewal funding has had very little change, and has not kept pace with inflation and continued aging of infrastructure over the past 20 years,” the letter reads.

In addition to these needs, the school district has identified the need to expand some schools and build a new school in City Centre, but none of these have been approved by the ministry.

The letter to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is on the agenda for the board of education’s May 18 finance committee meeting.