The Vancouver School Board projects a shortfall of $8.52 million for its 2015-2016 budget and Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council chairperson Melanie Antweiler believes VSB staff have done a good job of keeping the cuts away from kids.
“There’s nothing that is as outrageous appearing as it was last year at this stage when instrumental music was [proposed to be] cut completely and the athletics coordinator and all the things that brought people out,” she said Monday morning.
Last year, the board proposed eliminating the optional elementary band and strings program for a savings of $630,651, but public outcry was vociferous and money that came from the province during the budget process was used to preserve the program for a year.
The 2015-2016 preliminary budget proposes offering band and strings to fewer grades and to try providing the program during prep time at select schools in September 2015 to reduce the number of teachers needed. The preliminary budget also proposes increasing the user fee for the optional program from $2.50 to $5 per month. Instituting both measures would save nearly $420,000.
Antweiler noted the VSB is turning to one-time methods of saving money to balance its budget. Board staff propose continuing to sell and lease back equipment and technology, to decrease its budget line for the purchase of furniture and equipment below average spending per year, and to reduce maintenance by five positions.
“There’s been so much deferred maintenance that it’s already in poor condition in many schools,” Antweiler said. “There’s been a hole in the ceiling outside the kindergarten and Grade 1 classes at my kids’ school… There was a leak in February. There’s still a hole in the ceiling covered up by garbage bags. It’s an old school so I’m sure it was raining asbestos on five- and six-year-olds, and it’s still there.”
The VSB proposes closing 28 unused classrooms for an estimated savings of $39,200 in cleaning costs.
Enrolment and related funding from the provincial government has declined in recent years, which Antweiler says has posed budgeting problems for the board, but she notes board staff expect enrolment to increase in the future.
“It would be foolhardy to close schools now that may be needed in five years,” she said.
The board proposes additional expenditures in the preliminary budget, including $79,000 for an educational psychologist in addition to the equivalent of 12 full-time educational psychologists it employs now.
Trustees typically adopt a final budget April 30. This year, the process will be extended to accommodate input of the special adviser, EY, appointed in March by the Minister of Education. EY’s report is to be submitted to the minister by May 31, so trustees will adopt a provisional budget April 30, receive a report from board staff on EY’s report June 5, consult on EY’s report and the VSB’s related recommendation June 10, submit a draft budget to the minister June 15 and approve the final budget June 29.
Note: This story has been updated since first posted.