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New Westminster school district won't put money into climate action in 2021/22

School district says climate action was a lower priority for spending than areas such as mental health, but it's finding 'cost-neutral' ways to pursue its climate goals
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Climate action is still a priority for the New Westminster school district, but it's not allocating new money to the cause in 2021/22. Instead, the budget will focus on 'cost-neutral' actions to help it meet the district's green targets.

Climate action is still a priority for New Westminster schools, but the school district isn’t allocating any money for it in 2021/22.

At their May 11 meeting, school trustees heard budget recommendations from the senior management team and passed two readings of next year’s budget. The recommendations centred on several priority areas the school district had laid out as the basis for recent budget consultations – areas such as mental health, inclusive education, technology and climate action.

Secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham said a “fairly healthy number” of respondents to a school district survey were in support of climate action efforts. A school district report shows 884 of 1,063 responses being supportive of climate action.

But Ketcham noted that support was somewhat qualified.

“What we heard is that (it was a) very cool initiative; it is important, but in comparison to the other aspects … it might be a lesser priority in terms of budget allocation,” she said, noting people felt issues such as mental health were higher on the priority list.

The district has opted to make climate action a “cost-neutral” item in its 2021/22 budget, which means no new spending will be directed to it.

Staff proposed the district reallocate 0.4 FTE (essentially, two days of a five-day work week) of district staff time for one staffer to lead the climate action portfolio. That person will work with principals and teachers to foster climate leadership and “climate action literacy” in schools.


The district also has $10,000 in grants available to support school “green teams” since, as Ketcham noted, not much has happened with green teams in schools because of the pandemic over the past two school years.

“We are certainly hoping to engage students as part of this work,” she said.

Ketcham said New Westminster Secondary School’s Student Voice group, in particular, came up with a number of climate-action ideas during budget discussions.

The Student Voice budget submission to the school board outlines ideas such as offering more vegan alternatives in the school cafeteria, hosting district-wide challenges on environmental themes (such as bottle drives, bike to school initiatives or ways to conserve energy) and offering presentations and guest speakers on climate action items.

“We are looking forward to working with students and accumulating their ideas,” Ketcham said.

Also on the climate action front, Ketcham said the district’s facilities and maintenance team will continue to prioritize projects that help to reduce the district’s carbon footprint and will make funding requests to the Ministry of Education accordingly.

The school district's 2021/22 budget now heads to the May 25 school board meeting for a final vote.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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