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Opinion  

Cash for teaching, not admin

By Peter Fassbender, Minister of Education

British Columbia has one of the best education systems in the world.

Our students consistently rank near the top in international assessments.

It is also a well-funded system. Budget 2015 continues to deliver significant dollars to classrooms with an increase of $576 million over the next three years.

We're investing an additional 33 per cent for class composition through the Learning Improvement Fund, and we are fully funding the new, negotiated agreement with teachers – the longest in B.C. history.

Total education funding will top $5 billion next year. That's $1.2 billion more than in 2001.

This is a substantial increase at a time when student enrolment declined by about 75,000 students over that same period.

We're targeting more money for student instruction because we know parents want more teachers and classroom supports, not more administration. They want more of their tax dollars to deepen student learning, not duplicate payroll functions.

That's why government is also challenging school boards to find administrative savings of $29 million this coming year and $25 million the year after.

We have to bend the administrative cost curve.

We have to do this because, while we're putting more into the system, in spite of declining student enrolment, school districts are spending more money on administration than ever before.

Without school districts finding efficiencies, administrative costs would rise to almost seven per cent per cent of their budgets by 2019.

These costs can come down and should come down.

All we're asking school districts to do is to find administrative savings to reflect the percentage they were spending 10 years ago – about six per cent.

At the end of the day, government is looking for school districts to save 0.5 per cent of total spending this coming year, rising to one per cent in the year after. This is reasonable, it's achievable and, to keep education funding sustainable and targeted to classrooms, it's the right thing to do.

For the past few years, we've been working with school districts to find administrative savings, and we will continue to do that because the results speak for themselves.

One district saved $300,000 annually by moving internal professional workshops and seminars to days outside of school session, thereby limiting temporary teacher call outs. Another district converted board meeting processes to a paperless model and saved about $18,000.

There are lots of areas to look at, like purchasing, legal services, employee wellness, facilities maintenance and transportation, to name a few.

I am excited about this opportunity, with long-term labour peace, to focus on learning and even better outcomes for B.C. students. And that means keeping a sharp eye to eliminate spending that gets in the way of student supports.

Peter Fassbender is British Columbia's Minister of Education

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