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UPDATED: VSB superintendent moving forward with budget cuts

Trustees hopeful additional funding will become available
The superintendent had to start the process of implementing the budget now in order to ensure the district meets all of its financial obligations and is ready to go for the start of school in September, according to Vancouver School Board chair Mike Lombardi. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The Vancouver school district is moving forward with next year’s controversial budget despite the board rejecting it last month.

On Monday, district superintendent Scott Robinson and staff began implementing the proposed 2016/17 operating budget, including the $24 million in cuts needed to balance the district’s books. Unless the board approves another budget before the June 30 deadline, the superintendent has to implement the one rejected by the board. A new budget is unlikely to materialize unless the district receives additional funding from the province.

Vancouver School Board chair Mike Lombardi said the superintendent had to start the process now in order to ensure the district meets all of its financial obligations and is ready to go for the start of school in September.

“The superintendent has an obligation and the authority in the School Act to do that because it’s his responsibility to make sure we don’t incur any financial liabilities as a result of what the district is doing,” Lombardi said. “We have to have our schools open with classes organized, teachers assigned [and] timetables completed, and it’s got to all be done by June 30.”

It will take about two months to work through the “considerable transfers and some layoffs” affecting the district’s 6,000-odd employees as it needs to be done in a systematic and fair way that is consistent with current collective agreements, he added.

Lombardi and VSB vice-chair Janet Fraser met with Minister of Education Mike Bernier in Victoria last week to discuss the board’s decision and options moving forward. Following that meeting, the minister directed his senior staff to work with their counterparts at the VSB in order to find ways to mitigate the budget’s impact on students.

Although staff haven’t completed their work yet, Lombardi said he spoke to Bernier on Friday and was told that the minister’s hopeful they will have some options for the board to look at.

In an emailed statement to the Courier, Bernier said the ministry is continuing to work with the VSB to find ways it can submit a balanced budget, adding there is no timeline on this work other than the June 30 budget deadline that applies to all districts. However, the minister did indicate that additional funding may be hard to come by.

"There are 60 school districts in B.C. and we have to ensure they are funded in the same way," Bernier said in the statement, which also noted that Vancouver received more than $500 million in record funding from the ministry this year. "We can't provide extra funds to one district at the expense of all the others."

Trustees voted to reject a motion to adopt the proposed budget at Gladstone Secondary School April 28. The vote was split along party lines, with Non-Partisan Association trustees supporting the motion and Vision Vancouver and Green Party trustees voting against it. The motion was defeated 4-5.

The proposed budget generated substantial controversy due to the deep cuts it contained in order to address an estimated $24 million shortfall for the coming school year, including removing the 30-student limit on class sizes in Vancouver secondary schools and reducing the number of teachers by the equivalent of 33 full-time positions.

Critics argued the proposed budget would disproportionately affect the district’s most vulnerable students, as it would eliminate the district’s anti‐racism and anti‐homophobia teacher mentors, literacy/early intervention teacher consultant, and support workers for gifted students and those with special needs.

Before rejecting the budget on April 28, the board unanimously passed trustee Fraser’s amendment that the anti-homophobia mentor be reinstated for one year. Lombardi said that amendment is now officially part of the budget and the anti-homophobia mentor position will be retained for the 2016/17 school year.

The proposed budget also included eliminating the teaching positions associated with the optional elementary band and strings program. Lombardi said the board is conducting a study of the program to see if there’s support for a “user-pay” system to fund it, but that it’s a separate process as it doesn’t have any budget implications.

The board is to be presented with a report on the feasibility of a user-pay band and strings program by associate superintendent Nancy Brennan at the education and student services committee (committee III) meeting at 5 p.m., May 11.