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School board sets up showdown by passing illegal deficit budget

May 17 2012

Cowichan Valley school trustees put their jobs on the line Wednesday night by giving third and final reading to an illegal deficit budget.

The 5-4 vote sets up a possible showdown with the provincial government. The School Act requires boards to pass balanced budgets, and trustees risk being fired for going into the red.

But board chairwoman Eden Haythornthwaite, who voted with the majority, said in a telephone interview following the meeting that she was "serenely happy" with the outcome.

She said trustees will now try to muster community support for their stand.

"As we told everybody, the more community voice we have behind us, the more likely it is we can actually make a deal with the government and not get [fired]," she said.

"I mean, we don't want to be fired. We really don't."

The majority, however, feel they can no longer continue to cut the district's budget. Instead, they opted to pass a "restoration" budget that would return some of what has been lost over the years, including teacher-librarian time, intensive behaviour teachers and custodial help.

Opponents have warned that the provincial government could remove the board and appoint a public trustee, thereby robbing voters of their voice.

But the majority argues the same law requiring balanced budgets also requires trustees to provide a quality education for students.

Haythornthwaite said the board hopes to meet with the ministry and work out a settlement. She and two trustees met with Deputy Education Minister James Gorman last week.

"I came out of there feeling like these were gentlemen that we could talk to," she said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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