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Vision Vancouver motion to extend moratorium on school closures fails

Shannon Park annex last school site closed to VSB students
shannon park
The Vancouver Hebrew Academy operates at the former Shannon Park Annex site in Marpole and renews its lease with the Vancouver School Board annually. Photo Dan Toulgoet

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 Monday evening. NPA trustees and the Green Party of Vancouver’s trustee Janet Fraser opposed the motion.

The NPA said in the lead-up to the November civic election that it wouldn’t close neighbourhood schools. NPA incumbent trustee Fraser Ballantyne said last April, however, the board could have closed five schools instead of digging so deeply into its reserve fund to balance its budget.

“The parties had campaigned on that and we thought it was important to send a clear signal to the public and parents, especially, about the position of the Vancouver School Board,” Lombardi said regarding why he proposed the motion. “It was not enough to have positions of political parties. It was now time for the corporate body to make it very clear and send a signal.”

The former Vision-dominated board pledged not to close schools in 2011. The board had considered closing five school sites in 2010 to the consternation of many parents.  Lombardi says once parents learned in 2010 that the board would save less than $1 million by closing all five school sites, parents argued closing schools would be unacceptable. Lombardi said the board wouldn’t have saved money on salaries for teachers and other staff, who would have been shifted elsewhere.

The Vancouver School Board faces a recently revised budget shortfall of $15 million for 2015-2016. Overall enrolment in Vancouver public schools had been declining for years, although enrolment is swiftly increasing in certain parts of the city.

Fraser wrote on her Facebook page that she doesn’t want to close any school to VSB student enrolment, but she also doesn’t believe a four-year moratorium is appropriate at this time of continued budget pressures.

She said closing a school doesn’t mean boarding it up and selling the land for development.

Fraser believes schools should be “repurposed to serve children and the local community.”

Lombardi said savings from closing a school or proceeds from the sale of a site flow into capital, not operational, funds. Leasing revenue from Shannon Park Annex, buildings at Carleton elementary and a few other school sites flows to operations.

Lombardi says Vision trustees will continue to call on the provincial government to better fund public education in Vancouver. He said Vision trustees support leasing excess space at schools. He noted the VSB is considering selling portions of land at John Oliver secondary and Carleton elementary.

None of the trustees supported selling VSB properties at a forum organized by the District Parent Advisory Council in October.

Shannon Park Annex was the last school site closed to VSB students, following a review of operations by a task force, in 2003. The board leases the annex to the Vancouver Hebrew Academy elementary school on an annual basis.

The Courier was unable to reach NPA board chairperson Christopher Richardson and Fraser by its print deadline.