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Victoria rallies to support Cowichan trustees

Jun 21 2012

Oaklands Elementary School teacher Darren Companion showed his support for the Cowichan school board and its plan to submit a deficit budget to the government when he joined a rally outside the Ministry of Education building Wednesday.

The Grade 5 teacher, carrying a sign that read "Fire George, not the Trustees," is unhappy that Education Minister George Abbott has threatened to sack the trustees if they insist on posting a budget deficit.

"It's outrageous," said Companion. "These Cowichan trustees are democratically elected by the populace and they can be fired by the government because they were doing what they are supposed to be doing.

"Trustees have a mandate to be the stewards of public education in society. They're responsible to make sure students have all the materials and class sizes which will help them in the education."

Cowichan trustees put their jobs on the line in May by voting 5-4 in favour of a financial plan for 2012-13 that is more than $3.7 million in the red.

The board majority says it can no longer provide a quality education for students while continuing to make cuts. The trustees say their "restoration budget" would return some of what has been lost over the years, including teacher librarian time and intensive behaviour teachers.

The board minority counters that this is the wrong year to take such a stand, that a balanced budget is possible without deep cuts, and that trustees risk getting fired and forfeiting the community's voice in district decisions.

The School Act requires boards to submit balanced budgets.

Abbott has warned repeatedly that if trustees insist on a posting a deficit, they will be sacked and non-elected people will be appointed to run the district.

Abbott was not available for comment Wednesday.

Lise Tetrault, who teaches at Ecole Macaulay Elementary School, said she went to the rally to support the Cowichan trustees for having the courage to send a budget to Abbott that reflects the needs of their students.

"These trustees actually campaigned on a platform that said we will submit a needs budget and now they're being fired for it," she said.

"Voters in that district will probably have something to say."

Tara Ehrcke, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association and Greater Victoria trustees Diane McNally, Edith Loring-Kuhanga and Deborah Nohr spoke at the rally, which was attended by 35 people, praising the Cowichan trustees for their courage.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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