I have spent a lot of time on Vancouver Island lately; I am writing this column during Chapter visits to SD 71 (Comox Valley) and SD 72 (Campbell River). Spring break in BC is no longer standardized, as school districts choose a schedule that best fits the needs of the community. The folks in SD 71 and SD 72 still have a few more weeks of valuable instructional time, and will take their break towards the end of the month when many of us are back at work. It was thus an ideal time – between snow events – for a trip ‘up Island’ to visit schools. I will share stories and photos from this journey in April, but would like to thank Comox Chapter President Jason Cobey, and Campbell River Chapter President Laird Ruehlen, for making all the arrangements (including nice weather), and being my tour guides in their respective districts.
Although I have been blessed by fine weather during many of my Chapter visits this year, last week’s travel plans were upended by winter weather. I was invited to attend the Budget Lock-up at the Legislature on Tuesday February 28, and while my flight was cancelled due to Monday’s snow event, I was able to take the ferry and even participated in a Ministry of Education and Child Care Zoom meeting in my car while waiting to board.
Tuesday dawned with another snow event that created transportation challenges in Victoria. Some participants were delayed, and not able to attend the Budget Lock-up due to its strict guidelines; all participants are admitted promptly at 8:00 am, after which the doors are ‘locked’ with security personnel stationed at each entry-point. The Budget Lock-up is a long-held tradition in BC: participants with an interest in the government’s finances, including members of the media, are ‘locked up’ at the Victoria Conference Centre – which includes forfeiting your phone and any outside communication – until the Minister of Finance delivers the Budget Speech in the Legislature.
During this time, Lock-up participants each receive a large bundle of documents which make up the 2023 Budget: reports, budget estimates, supplemental reports, and service plans for each government Ministry. After an initial briefing by the Honourable Katrine Conroy, Minister of Finance, participants can then access an individual briefing with the Deputy Minister and Senior Staff for each Ministry. I was naturally most interested in the budget plans for the Ministry of Education and Child Care, and sat down with Deputy Minister, Christina Zacharuk.
In brief, the highlights of Budget 2023 for education include the following:
• An additional $2.429 billion dollars in operating funds for the Ministry over the next three years
• $1.96 billion to fund wage lifts
• $212.5 million in new funding for School Food Programs
• $3.4 billion to maintain, replace, renovate, or expand K-12 facilities, which includes funding to seismically upgrade or replace schools, as well as new school space to accommodate increasing enrolment in school districts
As DM Zacharuk explained, details of the above highlights, along with the full Ministry budget, will be released in the coming weeks. One issue of significant interest to the BCPVPA, our members, and partners is Exempt Staff Compensation, and we look forward to hearing more on that subject with the release of the budget details.
On Thursday, March 2, I was back in Victoria with Interim Executive Director, Mike Roberts, for a day of meetings at the Ministry of Education and Child Care, and our first formal in-person meeting with the the Honourable Rachna Singh, Minister of Education and Child Care, and Deputy Minister Christina Zacharuk.
It was a productive meeting, and I outlined the story of the BCPVPA which helped strengthen our working relationship with the new Minister and her Deputy. The Minister asked several clarifying questions as we reinforced our recognition that, as Principals and Vice-Principals, we are part of the province’s and districts’ management teams and are committed to a positive and productive working relationship with the Minister, her staff, and the Ministry.
We talked about the issues that matter most to Principals and Vice-Principals, most significantly the impact of the K-12 labour challenges and our desire to find joint solutions. We highlighted the ways that we are already working together, such as the BCPVPA’s work on development of the provincial Anti-Racism Incident Response Guidelines, our commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, and our leadership of the sector consortium that is developing the Foundational Management Standards and Training for School Leaders.
The Minister expressed her deep appreciation for the work of Principals and Vice-Principals, not only during the pandemic but also through the challenges of this post-pandemic period. Both the Minister and her Deputy recognized the BCPVPA’s support for current Ministry initiatives, and expressed a desire to work closely with us to address issues that are a priority for the BCPVPA. We share a commitment to continue this conversation.
Brian with Minister Singh
As the winter term draws to a close, and the days are brighter, you have all earned a restful break. I will close my column with a quote borrowed from our Director of Member Health and Well-being, Rochelle Morandini: “Take the time, with intent, to refresh and recharge on your spring break!”
Have a great spring break when it arrives in your district.
My column will return on March 31.