For Andrea Drake, the public consultation on the 2017-2018 Delta School District draft budget was a difficult moment.
Looking down at her phone where she had written her notes, Drake’s voice trembled. She was talking about her son, who requires an education assistant in his kindergarten class.
Drake’s son has a low special needs designation, which means his support is not guaranteed. Next year, when her son goes into Grade 1, Drake was told he won’t receive help from an education assistant.
“I worry constantly about how that is going to go for him, his over-worked teacher and the other 25 to 30 plus students in his class,” she said. “I’ve had to advocate all year long for my son to continue to receive support — support that has kept other students, staff and school property safe.
“To hear that the already low number of EA support positions is potentially being cut really hurts me,” she added. “The projected special needs student numbers reportedly going down for next year doesn’t mean that the need for support of all the other students is going down.”
In its 2017-2018 budget recommendations, the school board suggested removing nearly 28 full-time equivalent education assistant positions to help meet the $2.017-million deficit. The reasoning given was that next year will see a decline in enrolment from students with special needs, and therefore cuts should come from that program.
That logic didn’t sit well with many of the parents and industry professionals in attendance at the April 25 public consultation.
Samanta Palomino, the parent of a child with special needs who will be entering the school system in the next few years, said the school board should consider a reduction in special needs students an opportunity to reduce the workload of its already stressed EAs, not add to the problem by cutting staff.
Education assistant Carol Johnson agreed. She currently works at English Bluff Elementary, but spent several years working in HR for the Richmond school district.
“For the last couple years in Richmond, we were just fighting this crisis of not having enough EAs,” Johnson said. “So I’m seeking to understand how is it that Delta finds itself an abundance of EAs when I sat in these meetings with other school districts saying they can’t hire them fast enough.”
The people attending the consultation made noises and nods of agreement at those words.
Other parents who weren’t originally intending to speak also brought their stories to the trustees on April 25. One of them was Melissa Kluey.
Kluey’s 12-year-old daughter suffers from seizures and requires a full-time education assistant to help her deal with her declining motor skills and neurological functions.
This past year, Kluey took her daughter out of the public school system and into distance education because her daughter would not receive the support they were expecting.
Her daughter is going into Grade 8 next year, and Kluey was hoping they could bring her back into the public school sysem at Ladner’s Delta Secondary.
“Then I see this article in the paper, about the possibility of EA reductions, and my heart stopped,” she said. “I was afraid.
“I was hoping to bring her back into the high school level with that, and now I’m not sure.”
Trustees will come forward with their decision on the 2017-2018 budget at the next school board meeting on May 2. Anyone who wishes to provide additional comments or concerns to the consultation process can email them to email@example.com.