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Vancouver mom says closing schools bad form

“Day of Yoga = $150,000. ‘Savings’ from closing my kids’ school = $175,000. BC Government’s priorities = totally wrong.

“Day of Yoga = $150,000. ‘Savings’ from closing my kids’ school = $175,000. BC Government’s priorities = totally wrong.”

That’s what Katie Riecken tweeted upon the release of the Ministry of Education’s special adviser’s report on the Vancouver School Board, June 9.

Riecken, whose son enters kindergarten at Champlain Heights Annex in September, would rather her nearest school survive than the government spend a reported $150,000 to close Burrard Bridge to celebrate International Day of Yoga, June 21.

Riecken attended meetings about the considered closure of Champlain Heights Annex, along with four other annexes and elementary schools in 2010.

A Vancouver School Board report from 2010 projected the board could save $175,000 annually by closing the annex, not to mention revenue and reduced facility operating and maintenance costs if the building was leased to a third party.

Ernst & Young (EY), the special adviser, reports capacity at the annex is at more than 100 per cent, whereas enrolment at the main Champlain Heights school is at less than 70 per cent capacity. Champlain Heights Annex isn’t specifically identified as a candidate for potential closure by the report.

“The feeling at the annex is it’s eternally on the potential chopping block because it’s such a small school and because the nearby schools are not at capacity, so they could just shift students,” Riecken said.

The report cites a preference for closing elementary annexes, where the incremental costs of educating a student are higher than at elementary schools.

The report notes that of the 16 annexes in the district, eight are used at less than 75 per cent based on their enrolment and capacity, and seven of the eight have a total school population of less than 100 students. It says if seven underused annexes were closed immediately, EY estimated the district would save $1.5 million annually.

Riecken said the annex enjoys a strong sense of community, with 10 kids in the upcoming kindergarten class who attended the same mom and baby group at the nearby community centre.

“A school is more than how full it is percentage-wise,” said Riecken, who works for a union and is a former member of COPE and Vision Vancouver.

With 10,000 empty seats across the district, the Ministry of Education sees opportunities for $250 million to $750 million in one-time savings and $72 million in annual savings if the 52 recommendations in the report are implemented.

The report notes elementary and secondary school utilization is at 96 per cent on the west side, 74 per cent on the east side. EY estimated up to 19 East Side schools could be closed, including seven annexes, 10 elementary and two secondary schools for potential annual savings of $37 million. Two pairs of these secondary schools are in close proximity to one another, Britannia and Templeton, and Gladstone and Windermere.

The report suggests the board could save money by closing schools awaiting costly seismic upgrades and maintenance.

Vision Vancouver trustee Mike Lombardi’s motion to extend a moratorium on school closures until December 2018 failed to pass at a school board meeting in January with the lone Green Party of Vancouver and four NPA trustees opposed.

The VSB must submit a balanced budget to the ministry by June 30. It must also submit a report that demonstrates the board read and considered the recommendations in the special advisor’s report prior to adopting the 2015-2016 budget.


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