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Hikes pressure school districts

Rising costs may cut services

Despite calls from BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) to give public schools a rate break, the province’s plans to increase BC Hydro rates continues.

BCSTA president Teresa Rezansoff sent minister of energy and mines Bill Bennett a letter last month expressing “extreme concern” on behalf of the province’s 60 boards of education over the government’s plan to hike rates by 28 per cent over the next five years. The rate increases are part of a 10-year plan for BC Hydro.

“We strongly urge you to exempt public schools from the recently announced BC Hydro rate increases or to provide an education utility rate for schools,” wrote Rezansoff, who is also chair of the Boundary School District. “In the end these are all provincial dollars moving from one budget to another, with students caught in the middle.”

The first price hike, due in April, will be an additional nine per cent.

Bennett responded to the requests saying that if boards of education were given a special rate, then the public would have to pay more to make up for it. He was quoted saying that a nine per cent increase is “less than one-tenth of one per cent of the total budgets of school boards.”

The electricity for more than 1,600 buildings costs school districts across the province $35.5 million a year, according to Rezansoff. In her letter she estimates planned rate hikes will cost BC’s school districts $4.1 million in 2014-15, and a total of $29.5 million over five years.

“Without government relief this will result in additional loss of staff and further reductions to services for students,” Rezansoff wrote.

School District 47 budgeted $225,000 for electricity in 2013. Secretary treasurer Steve Hopkins said the price of electricity will increase about $15,000 each year over the next five for a total $75,000 increase by 2019.

With the rising costs of the medical services program, pension costs and the CUPE wage increase, school districts in funding protection, like Powell River, will continue to face uncertainty about future cuts in services.

“This will certainly have an adverse effect as another escalating cost over time with revenues frozen,” said Hopkins.

According to Rezansoff, the government’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services acknowledged the mounting pressures on boards and called for extra funding.

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