New Westminster school board defers vote on extra arts funding

After years of cuts to arts funding in New West schools, parents and students got a glimpse of what arts education would be like with a few extra dollars.

But it was only a glimpse.

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On Tuesday night, the school board voted to defer its decision on a proposed $180,000 surplus allocation to arts programs in local schools, arguing more time was needed to make a thoughtful and informed decision.

The recommendation, put forward by board chair Mark Gifford, was to spend $60,000 to create a district arts coordinator (0.5 full-time equivalent), $50,000 to cover Massey Theatre rental costs, and $70,000 to replace and/or repair fine arts equipment and supplies at all schools in the district.

The recommendation was in response to a plea made last month by parents from the NWSS Music Auxiliary asking for more money for the district’s arts programs.

“Mark Gifford’s recommendations were perfect to start things off and to fulfil a few immediate needs,” Wendy Cooper, co-treasurer of the NWSS Music Auxiliary, told the Record on Wednesday.

Cooper and other parents were at the school board meeting this week to hear what trustees planned to do with the district’s more than $3-million surplus.

Cooper said she has watched the budget for arts education be depleted year after year “when it was time to tighten the purse strings.”

“I know life isn’t fair, but our kids have sacrificed for quite a few years now,” Cooper said.

“I’m concerned that our kids won’t see the reward.”

But some trustees felt that because the district is in the middle of a strategic planning process for its five-year plan, they couldn’t immediately support a one-time payment to arts education.

“This is an experience that I really, really believe in, but for me the process behind it is really what throws me off. I find that it was incredibly reactive with long-term implications,” trustee Gurveen Dhaliwal said at the meeting.

Trustee Anita Ansari agreed.

Ansari said she was concerned it wasn’t enough to just allocate funds from the surplus to support arts education.

“I don’t want to plug the holes in the ship and find we hit an iceberg. That’s why we’re doing the strategic planning, so we can have a long-term goal that we’re going towards, and arts needs to be part of a long-term goal and not just be something we throw a little bit of money off from our surplus,” she said.

Trustees are expected to make a decision on the arts funding recommendation at the school board meeting on May 28.

Cooper is hopeful that, at that time, trustees will make the right decision.

“If the people could move this forward, in a positive direction, then arts won’t have to continue to be sacrificed,” Cooper said.

Surplus spending

While trustees deferred their decision on additional funding for arts education, the board did approve a $425,595 surplus allocation, including $20,000 to buy new equipment for custodians.

This includes four floor burnishers, nine Orek buffers, four wing machines and one wet vacuum.

The additional equipment was recommended following a comprehensive cleanliness review the district conducted this year. The purpose of the review was to determine what the impact was of the previous board’s decision to move nearly all custodians to afternoon and evening shifts, outside of school hours (the only NWSS has a daytime custodian).

The remaining $405,595 will be used for earthquake emergency provisions ($100,000); a 0.6 FTE teacher mentor ($60,495); laser fiche digital filing and workflow project ($150,000); summer co-op student to finalize phase 1 of attendance management program ($20,000); special education review ($50,000); and strategic plan project ($25,000).

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