Schooling a priority, MLAs say

York’s two MLAs take exception to accusations by some York public school trustees that the provincial government is indifferent to education.
“Of course we’re concerned. Those are our kids and we’re responsible for educating them,” said York North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski.
York South MLA Victor Doerksen said the government has put millions of dollars into school building projects in the city over the last decade — including two new high schools and two elementary/middle schools.
“How many times have you ever heard the positive things?”
Doerksen said the York public board has, in particular, repeatedly voiced discontent over funding issues.
“And I don’t deny there have been some pressures,” said Doerksen.
But he added that the board has a “global budget” and needs to make some decisions about how money is spent.
Public school trustees expressed dismay this week after being told to expect a zero, or at most two per cent, increase in their operations and maintenance budget.
Associate superintendent Deb Beck had told trustees that there would be no provincial rebate this year to defray the high cost of utilities.
Since 1998, natural gas costs for the district have risen by 105 per cent, while electricity has gone up by 49 per cent.
With virtually no extra money to pay for these expenses, Beck told the board the options would mean further cutbacks to maintenance areas that were already reduced over the years. This means possible cuts in maintenance positions, school repairs, and snow clearing.
Trustee Bill Stuebing complained the government knows the financial straits schools boards are in, yet chooses to do nothing. “They don’t care . . . how else are we to interpret the government’s response?” Stuebing said.
But Jablonski and Doerksen said on Thursday they are always willing to sit down with the school board to seek a solution.
Doerksen said he believes both York school boards generally “do pretty well” at managing their budgets.
Jablonski said she empathizes with the public board over these extra expenses, and is prepared to take up the board’s case with Infrastructure Minister Ty Lund.
“I intend to ask a lot of questions, then I’ll have the answers when I see the minister.”