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myrtle philip funding

By Loreth Beswetherick Is Myrtle Philip community school — the school with the largest number of elementary pupils in the district — being short-changed with the new system of funding adopted by the Howe Sound School Board last year? Principal Bob Daly thinks so and so does the Myrtle Philip Parent Advisory Council. But district superintendent Mike Fitzpatrick isn’t so sure. Fitzpatrick feels the formula used to distribute district funds is equitable. The site-based budgeting system was adopted last year when the Howe Sound School Board moved to decentralize and give individual schools a say in how the district cash was spent. Daly said in Myrtle Philip’s case, however, the new distribution formula doesn’t work. He said his large school is subsequently left with the smallest operating budget per capita in the district. The PAC has put the issue at the top of their agenda for their next monthly meeting, to be held Oct. 12. They are urging parents to attend and make their voices heard. Both Daly and Fitzpatrick will be present at the gathering which will be held in the school library at 7 p.m. "This is of concern to parents," said PAC chair Leslie Patterson. "We need to deal with this now, that is why we have invited Mike Fitzpatrick to talk to us. We don’t have a big operating budget and it looks worse for next year." She said the PAC gave the school about $15,000 last year to help plug a budgetary shortfall. "It’s ridiculous," said Patterson. "The PAC is here to enhance programs. We are not fund-raising for paper. We are fund-raising for fun things for our children." Whistler school trustee Andrée Janyk said the board understands there are some anomalies to the distribution formula. She said a study was done last year to assess the situation. "It is being addressed." Before the board voted to decentralize last year board members would divvy up the $28 million or so allocated to the district and decide how much to hold aside for teachers’ salaries and how much to give the schools. Now, with the school-based budgeting approach, the school receives a lump sum based on a formula and it is up to the principal who, with staff and PAC, decide how much to spend on items like teachers and assistants, libraries, special education and administration. The leftovers make up the operating budget. The board still manages certain items on a district-wide basis, including funding for maintenance, repairs and technology. Janyk said the site-based system is more beneficial to individual schools than having a centralized board making decisions where to cut. "When you are sitting centrally making these decision you don’t know... you get a very small feeling of how you are going to affect each school." Janyk said all the principals in the district came together and opted to go this route. The next step was to choose from several different formulas how to allocate funds. "Everybody agreed on one formula." It is this recipe Daly said is not pulling through for him. "The board is in agreement that something hasn’t worked for us and finance people at the district office are trying to nail it down," said Daly. "I believe Myrtle Philip is an anomaly in the system, I believe the formula has to be looked at again." Fitzpatrick said the formula is complex but basically each school gets a set dollar figure for each student. Primary students, for example, are allocated about $3,300 per head and intermediate kids about $2,900. "Every school gets the same amount. The basic funding is all the same." There are differences, however for native and special needs students. Schools with larger native populations or special needs kids get more money. The various schools in School District 48 also qualify for different grants, Schools with student populations under 200 get grants, as do schools with populations under 300. Myrtle Philip does not get these monies. It does, however, get some concession granted "northern schools" to compensate for long distance phone calls and added busing costs. Squamish schools, for example, don’t get this funding. "Basically its all done very equitably," said Fitzpatrick. He said if the Myrtle Philip operating budget is the smallest per capita it may be because of how the school is allocating its funds internally. "It could be smaller because of decisions the school makes on what they are going to spend their money on." Daly said that may be the case but he doesn’t think so. "I am doing some comparisons with other schools to see if we are starting on a level playing field as far as funding goes." He said this is the first real run through for the new formula. "There are bound to be some glitches and it seems there is a glitch as far as we are concerned. While there are economies of scale which are recognized, like certain fixed costs for smaller schools, by the same token, maybe there is a point of diminishing return where a larger school is concerned." Myrtle Philip has 540 pupils if you count the Francophone students. The Francophone program, however, is funded through School District 93 and any shared costs are negotiated with that district. Without the Francophone kids, Myrtle Philip has 483 students. The next largest school in the district is Brackendale elementary which has just over 400 students. "I believe we have to look at this formula again." said Daly. Fitzpatrick said, however, he is not keen to tinker with the process. "When you do that there will be more winners and more losers. There is no more money in the pie. If we give more to one school, some other schools will have to get less... we didn’t make this decision in isolation." He said he will explain the formula and how monies are allocated at the PAC meeting and Daly will go over his spending. "That is fair. We want to be very transparent and open with the teachers and the parents and say, here’s what we get and how we spend it." He said the board stays well away from internal spending decisions made by the individual schools.

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