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Busing stirs debate

Broader issue of formula funding also brought up at BDEC meeting

Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 25/02) - A proposal to reallocate busing funds within communities stirred debate at the regular council meeting of the Beaufort Delta Education Council.

NNSL Photo

Inuvik District Education Authority members Gerri Sharpe-Staples, left, and Mary Beckett take part in a discussion during last weekend's regular council meeting of the Beaufort Delta Education Council. - Malcolm Gorrill/NNSL photo

BDEC receives funding from the Department of Education, Culture and Employment for busing based on a complicated funding formula. Communities receive funding once they have 71 or more full-time equivalents (FTE) students, but those with 70 students or less do not receive funds.

A kindergarten student, for instance, is considered 0.5 FTE. Two communities within the BDEC district do not receive busing funding. They are Sachs Harbour, with about 25 students, and Tsiigehtchic, with about 60.

For the 2001-02 year, BDEC receives a total of $183,901 from ECE for busing. Contribution calculations for 2001-02 are based on Sept. 30, 2000 enrolment data.

During BDEC's meeting, which took place last Friday and Saturday, members were presented with various options in which individual district education authorities could redistribute their bussing funds based on perceived need.

Among those who spoke was Moses Garaba, principal of Inualthuyak school in Sachs. He reminded those present that while his school doesn't have many students, the community is in the midst of a long stretch without the sun, making it especially hard for young kids out walking.

"I know we have a formula we have to go by, and I also know that, yes, we need teachers," Garaba said.

"But I just want to reflect on the fact that, really, we are sacrificing the safety and the health of little kids in the interest of some formula."

In the end members decided to maintain the status quo.

"I think when it came right down to it," Inuvik DEA chair Mary Beckett explained in an interview, "what happened was that, although we all have great sympathy for the schools that are not funded as well as they would like, we're all on the same playing field.

"We're all funded with the same formula."

For the past several years the Inuvik DEA has not offered busing. Beckett said for two years in a row the DEA put it out to bid and received no offers, and so has not put out a bid on busing for the past two school years.

Beckett explained that the money the Inuvik DEA receives for busing is allocated towards funding for teachers or program support assistants or for the Beaver volunteer program. This year the DEA received about $92,000 for busing, which is roughly equivalent to one teaching position or two PSAs.

Formula issues

Beckett pointed out that individual DEAs can top up their busing funds by reallocating funds within their budgets. She said, however, the real problem is the funding formula for busing, and by extension the other funding formulas used by ECE.

"When you look at these formulas and the way the funding is provided, it doesn't talk about basic standards, and it doesn't talk about need. It only looks at formulas of, you know, for every X-number of students, you get this amount," Beckett said.

"The formula does not address the needs of the individual schools, nor was it ever designed to," she said.

"All of it is based on this completely arbitrary formula that they worked out."

For his part, BDEC director James Anderson said there is "room for improvement" regarding funding formulas. He used as an example the two schools in Inuvik, which used to be allocated five custodian positions each.

After enrolment dipped some time ago, the schools were allocated fewer custodians.

"Students still occupy the entire building," Anderson said. "Everything is driven by the number of students."

Changes needed

Beckett said the territorial government should come up with a different system.

"Rather than using an arbitrary formula that really doesn't mean much of anything, I would like them to sit down, make a committee and define out loud what the minimum standard for schools in the North should be."

Beckett said the GNWT is underfunding education but will not admit it.

"They'll refer back to this formula and how wonderful it is. Well, the formula sucks big time."

Bussing funding