British Columbia

Job losses loom as Prince Rupert school district faces deficit of up to $3M

The local teachers' union fears up to 40 jobs could be cut, including classroom support workers and librarians.

Board promises to investigate shortfall that equates to more than 10% of annual budget

Charles Hays Secondary School in Prince Rupert, one of nine School District 52 facilities facing cutbacks due to a district budget crisis. (Google Maps)

Parents and teachers in Prince Rupert, B.C., are bracing for deep cuts to classes and services after the local school district warned of a deficit that could reach $3 million — more than 10 per cent of its annual budget.

School District 52 has yet to provide an explanation for the shortfall, and school board chair James Horne is promising to investigate.

"The board will be pursuing those answers in due course, because we don't wish this to happen to us every year," Horne told CBC News. "We don't want to be making big cuts all the time."

The district is due to provide a fiscal update at a board meeting on May 11.

Kerrie Kennedy, president of the parent advisory council at the city's Roosevelt Elementary School, was shocked by the disclosure.

"I was like: 'What? How did that happen?  Why did that happen? And why wasn't it caught before Christmas?' And I couldn't get those answers," Kennedy told CBC's Daybreak North.

She says the shortfall demands accountability, not just explanations.

"I'm shocked, I'm dismayed.  And in the end, it's the children that are going to suffer."

Jobs and services under threat

B.C. school boards are mandated by provincial law to balance budgets each year. School District 52 now has few options to balance its budget outside of cutting jobs and services.

In a preliminary report, the district has proposed cutting back on hours to library assistants, careers teachers, math helpers and the district band teacher, as well as eliminating the behaviour interventionist position.  

As many as 40 jobs are under threat, believes Gabriel Bureau, president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers' Union.

"We don't know how many positions will be cut. It's very stressful," Bureau said.

"But it will also have an impact on the quality of education. You can't cut a number of positions without impacting quality of education."

Symbia Barnaby, who's a member of the Haida Nation and has four special needs children in the Prince Rupert school system, said the prospect of cuts is "pretty concerning" — especially the position of behaviour interventionist.

"Many of the Indigenous children in the district who do have special needs are actually not yet clinically diagnosed ... [nor] assessed, she explained on CBC Daybreak North.

"There is a misrepresentation of the need in the school district for the support of these kiddos."

Barnaby said the district's current behaviour interventionist has worked with the school and her undiagnosed children to come up with behaviour support plans, which have made all the difference to her children's success at school.

"Interventionists are tools we [use to] ensure that these schools are inclusive," she said.

Many school districts in B.C. are projecting multi-million-dollar shortfalls for the 2021-22 year, largely blaming budget pressures on the pandemic. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Many school districts in B.C. are projecting multi-million-dollar shortfalls for the 2021-22 year, largely blaming budget pressures on the pandemic.

But the deficit in Prince Rupert, where the school district is responsible for nine schools and around 2,000 students, is unusually severe.

By comparison, the Greater Victoria school district, which oversees 20,000 students in 44 schools, has reported a $7 million deficit.


With files from Matt Allen