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Cuts remain in Vancouver School Board budget

Reductions proposed for adult education programs

No changes were made to the Vancouver School Board’s revised budget that was adopted as its provisional budget last night.

That means under the adult education program, self-paced programs will be reduced, the Hastings and Downtown Eastside education centres will be closed, the Collingwood and South Hill youth programs will be discontinued and literacy outreach programs that run at elementary schools will end to save the board $526,211 next year and $1.59 million thereafter.

Proposed reductions to the adult education program drew the greatest outcry from the community during budget consultations.

The VSB needed to make cuts to address an $8.52 million funding shortfall, as identified in its preliminary budget.

Reductions and changes to the band and strings program for elementary school students are to be made and the district will continue to sell and lease back equipment and technology, decrease spending on furniture and equipment below average spending per year and reduce maintenance, as additional money-saving measures.

Trustee Patti Bacchus and her Vision Vancouver colleagues wanted the VSB to work to attract 75 international education students instead of the proposed 50 to bring more money into the district for the adult education program. Bacchus said the cost of closing the Downtown Eastside Education Centre next year would be $360,000 because the board would have to pay longtime teachers so much severance, and that amount is greater than the ongoing savings connected to closing the centre, which are projected to be $294,000 per year.

Bacchus also wanted increased revenue from international education used to keep two literacy outreach programs that are offered for a registration fee of $20 at elementary schools open, and to increase staffing at remaining adult education sites with any remaining money.

She argued it went too far to close the Hastings and Downtown Eastside centres at the same time, especially when students from the Downtown Eastside centre explained how important it was to them to have access to upgrading in their community.

While adult education is said to operate outside of the VSB’s core mandate of instructing students in kindergarten to Grade 12, Bacchus and Vision trustee Joy Alexander emphasized that having parents being able to speak and read English benefits kids.  

Associate superintendent Maureen Ciarniello said the figures Bacchus cited for the Downtown Eastside Education Centre didn’t take into account that a principal and academic advisor would need to be funded. Ciarniello told trustees the changes to the adult education program should see it break even in two years. She said classrooms at the Downtown Eastside Education Centre are too small to accommodate a cost-effective number of students, “even with enthusiastic enrolment.”

The four NPA trustees and Green Party of Vancouver trustee Janet Fraser didn’t support the amendment that was favoured by the four Vision trustees.

Those who voted against the amendment said they were moved by compelling stories, too, but couldn’t keep funding a program that runs with a structural deficit. NPA trustees Stacy Robertson and Fraser Ballantyne wondered why the previous Vision-dominated board didn’t take more action to reduce the program’s losses before. They wondered about the wisdom of trying to add more international students to the system.

No other amendments were recommended to the revised budget and it passed with the support of five trustees. All four Vision trustees voted against it.

Bacchus thanked staff for their hard work on the budget and the people who shared their concerns.

“With those final pieces around adult education, I can’t in good conscience say that I did my job, going home voting for that budget” she said.

Trustees unanimously passed a restoration budget which identifies the additional funding required by the VSB to restore the same level of service that was in place more than a decade ago. The restoration budget report concludes the district would need $59.5 million in additional money to be able to provide the same level of service that was delivered before the 2002-2003 budget cuts. Costs that have been downloaded from the province to the school board include $3.5 million for teachers’ pension plan in 2013-2014, $1.3 million in MSP premiums since 2009 and $2.4 million in carbon offsets since 2009.

To cope with shortfalls over the years, the board has made budget cuts related to continuing education, alternative programs, family and youth workers, learning and information technology and maintenance.

This year’s budget process doesn’t end with the adoption Thursday night. The Ministry of Education is to receive a report from the special adviser it appointed to consider the VSB’s budget development and forecasting, surpluses and deficits, management of assets including all buildings, leases and real estate, opportunities for administrative savings, and board governance on May 31. The VSB is to report on the special adviser’s report on June 5. The VSB is to submit a draft budget to the minister June 15 and then adopt its 2015-2016 budget June 29.

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