Highlights from the Finance & Legal Committee (V) meeting of February 24:
2015/16 Budget Changes
In the 2015/16 budget (set in June 2015) $8.52 million in budget changes, $9.12 million in reductions and $0.60 million in additions, were approved to create a balanced budget. The current projection is that $6.0 million in budget changes will be realized by the end of this financial year, June 2016. The most significant changes that will not be realized are holdback ($0.88 million) as the Province will not release any additional funding due to greater than anticipated provincial enrolment, and benefits surplus ($1.38 million) due to the actual surplus being less than projected.
I am disappointed these financial measures cannot be realised as it will mean more cuts to education.
Our second quarter ended on December 31, 2015 so we have all operating revenues and expenditures to that date as well as updated projections to the end of the financial year, June 2016. The estimated 2015/16 budget surplus is $1.23 million, which is one quarter of one percent of the annual budget.
In the past five years the estimated budget surplus was between $4.08 and $11.1 million. The main sources of past years’ surplus were holdback from the Ministry, lower than projected average teacher salaries, savings in staff replacement costs, benefits surpluses and savings from job action.
For this year there is no holdback due to greater than anticipated provincial enrolment, improved methodology was used to more accurately predict average teachers’ salaries, savings in staff replacement costs are leveling off, the benefits surplus is less than expected and there has been no job action.
Typically the VSB board chooses to restrict the use of any surplus to offsetting the next year’s shortfall, so this small estimated surplus will have little impact.
The revised budget shortfall for 2016/17 is $24.38 million. This has been updated to include current 2016/17 student enrolment projections and updated revenue and expenditure estimates. We are still waiting for one key budget factor, the March Ministry funding announcement, but the recently announced provincial budget implies that there will not be any significant change to funding beyond funding increases to cover union collective agreements.
It will be very challenging to reduce our budget by $24.38 million without significantly affecting our students. Many financial and administrative changes have already been made in previous years so it is certain that these cuts will be felt in our classrooms.
Highlights from the Planning and Facilities Committee (II) meeting of February 17:
95% Capacity Utilization
At the last board meeting my motion was referred to committee for discussion:
That the VBE Board has agreed to work towards achieving 95% capacity as a Ministry requirement, not because it will support our education mission.
My intent is to address why we as a Board decided to agree to the Province’s 95% capacity utilization target in passing our Long Range Facility Plan motions. During our discussions it became clear that (1) trustees accepted the 95% target in order to move forward our seismic program, and (2) we heard many concerns about the 95% target from our VSB stakeholders and the public. I wanted to capture these two points in a motion to make it clear that the Board was not accepting the 95% target because we think it will improve our students’ education.
I am pleased that this committee supported the motion as it goes back to the Board vote.
This new elementary school is under construction with an anticipated completion date of January 2017. A “start-up” school has been operating at Seymour Elementary since September 2014 and currently has three divisions of primary students. The process for naming this school will begin with setting up the committee that will review school name submissions.
At the October 26, 2015 Board meeting a motion was unanimously passed to initiate a consultation process regarding consideration of renaming this school. This process is underway as a committee is being set up to consider this proposal.
A request has been received to consider renaming this school, in part because a new replacement school is under construction. This process will get underway by setting up a committee to consider this proposal.
Highlights from the Education & Student Services Committee (III) meeting of February 10:
Elementary Band & Strings
This optional program is offered at 44 of our 92 elementary schools and is in addition to students’ curriculum Fine Arts instruction in Music, Art, Drama and Dance.
A challenge for trustees is that this program costs approximately $500,000 per year and funding is not provided by the Province. Moving the program into classroom teachers’ preparation time saves money on instruction but schools lose the choice of how to program their preparation time (e.g. schools may already have specialty music, art or PE instruction), scheduling can be very difficult and there are increased instrument and materials costs.
The report provides seven options, ranging from maintaining current status to eliminating the program completely, for trustees’ consideration. Any decision about this program will be made during the 2016/17 budget process.
I would very much like to see this program continue as it provides a wonderful opportunity for many of our students and is highly valued by the school communities. However, I will have to consider the program costs with all the other financial considerations as we prepare our budget for next year.
Athena Arts Program
Our district offers a variety of secondary programs that are periodically reviewed to ensure they are viable and meet district criteria.
The Athena Arts program at Windermere allows students to explore ideas and issues around the practices of art-making and the intelligent engagement of community dialogue about cultural production. However in recent years there has been a substantial decline in the number of applicants and so, after careful review, both school and senior district staff recommend that the Athena Arts program no longer accept new applicants and that it be gradually phased out. Enrolled students will complete the program and students who applied for next year would be informed and can continue with any applications to other district programs.
Given the number of students applying for Athena Arts I agree with the recommendation to phase out the program as it is no longer meeting the needs of our student population.
Highlights from our February 9 board meeting are the decisions to move forward with construction projects at three elementary schools:
Henry Hudson Elementary
This school has increasing numbers of in-catchment students so the Board approved creating another classroom to allow more in-catchment students to attend their neighbourhood school. The staff room will be converted to a classroom and a new staff room will be created from unused gym change room space.
Simon Fraser Elementary
This school also has increasing numbers of in-catchment students and in this case the Board approved the addition of a portable to the school site.
Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith Elementary
This school has a high seismic risk rating and the Board approved seismic upgrading of the school buildings with temporary accommodation for the students at the nearby MacCorkindale and Champlain Heights Elementary schools. Seismic upgrading is a lower cost option than a new school and so meets the current government funding criteria.
At the February 2 Planning & Facilities meeting there was an update on Douglas and Sexsmith Elementary schools.
As part of the seismic program new schools were built at Douglas and Sexsmith because the cost of seismic upgrading was much higher than building new schools. Students at both schools have now moved from the old to the new buildings.
Use of the old buildings was considered. The VSB asked for proposals from non-profit groups to repurpose the original Sexsmith school in exchange for a long term lease, but there were no viable proposals.
The project agreements for these schools included Provincial funding, with a March 31, 2016 deadline, for deconstruction and conversion of the land back to grass play fields. The VSB applied for demolition permits for both schools and at the same time met with the City of Vancouver and the Province to see if there was any opportunity that the buildings could still be saved. However, given the high costs of seismic upgrading and deferred maintenance there was no alternative solution. The VSB has no plans to sell or redevelop these lands.
While neither of the old schools are listed on the heritage registry, the VSB understands that they do have heritage significance to many in the community. Before demolition staff will consider which heritage artifacts can be saved from the buildings.
A construction management firm has been hired and hazardous material removal is underway. There should be no disruption to classes and care will be taken to ensure student safety. Specific measures include construction fencing and signage, a dedicated construction safety officer, a site safety plan and flag people to steer pedestrians clear of vehicles. This project is estimated to be complete by the end of March and at present a demolition date has not been set.
Highlights from the Personnel and Staff Services Committee (IV) meeting of February 3.
Class size limits are defined as:
Kindergarten 22 students
Grades 1 -3 24 students
Grades 4 – 12 30 students
Some secondary classes are exempt from the 30 student limit, e.g. band or choir, Planning 10 and distributed (online) learning.
As of October 15, the VSB had 1222 elementary classes and 6174 secondary classes. All elementary classes met the class size limits as did all the non-exempt secondary classes; there were 89 exempt classes that enrolled more than 30 students, 1.4% of all classes.
Class composition refers to the nature of the class in terms of students with Ministry designations.
For elementary classes there were 134 classes (11% of classes) with more than three Ministry designated students, two less than 2014, and there are five elementary schools with at least five classes with more than three Ministry designated students. These schools receive additional resources which could include funding for an extra teacher to allow smaller class sizes or additional in-class support.
The VSB uses the available funding to provide the best learning environments possible but because public education is underfunded we do have classes with more than three Ministry designated students, including some secondary classes where more than half the students have designations. I would very much like to see this change for the better.
The VSB is exploring the process of applying to be a Living Wage Employer. In Metro Vancouver the living wage is currently $20.68 per hour, which includes the base pay rate and e.g. extended health, MSP, sick leave and pension plan.
A potential challenge to becoming a Living Wage Employer is that as a public sector employer the district is subject to the Public Sector Employers Act. This means that any increases to salary structures must be approved by the Public Sector Employers’ Council (PSEC). The committee agreed that the VSB should ask PSEC if the VSB could raise salaries to meet the Living Wage Campaign’s requirements.
Highlights from the Management Coordinating Committee (I) meeting of February 3.
The VSB has started developing a new five-year strategic plan for 2016-2021 and monthly updates will come to Committee I. The Stakeholder Advisory Group has been formed, has met twice and considered their roles, information sharing, effective consultation and key questions. A three question survey is underway (it doesn’t take long to contribute your ideas!) and other ways to get involved are in are in the report, as is a timeline to roll out of the new plan in September 2016.
The VSB has created proposed school calendars for the next three years. As required by the Ministry there will be a one month consultation period for parents. Thanks to our calendar committee for your work in bringing this together.
It is proposed that:
Each year there will be six professional development days, four of which are district wide and two are set at the school level. There is one Ministry prescribed curriculum implementation day for the 2016/17 year.
Each year a two week spring break is proposed, five days of vacation and five days not in session (to be approved in the budget). The spring break dates align with other Metro districts.
And finally, we received updated district K-12 student enrolment projections (not including International students):
The student numbers are anticipated to continue to decline for three years, after which enrolment increase is expected.
Many thanks to the Henry Hudson Elementary PAC for coming to share their views on creating an extra classroom to accommodate more in-catchment students. Staff and committee trustees also supported converting the existing staffroom into a classroom and renovating unused gym change rooms into a new staffroom.
For Simon Fraser Elementary committee trustees supported the staff recommendation of adding a third (and last) portable to accommodate more in-catchment students.
These two school catchments have significant growth in families with school-age children and for two years have not accepted any cross boundary students. The VSB will also look for long term solutions as we develop our long term facilities plan, and for Simon Fraser this includes a new school in Olympic Village.
Henry Hudson PAC:
Henry Hudson report:
Simon Fraser report:
Last week the Mike Bernier, the Minister of Education, announced his commitment to seismic upgrades at Kingsford-Smith Elementary and the VSB is catching up to this news with a recommendation that the school be upgraded and not replaced.
Our latest cost estimates are $11.6M (with reserves) for upgrading and $19.5M (with reserves) for replacement. As the Ministry will support the lowest cost option this is the VSB recommendation, reluctantly supported by committee trustees as we cannot fund the $7.9M difference. Also supported was the recommendation that Kingsford-Smith students attend MacCorkindale and Champlain Heights during the construction work.
I am very pleased that at this meeting the Interim Long Range Facilities Plan (LRFP) was unanimously approved – in fact all 11 recommendations linked to this Interim LRFP were unanimously approved showing our board’s commitment to safe schools.
However we heard from many parents and VSB stakeholders that they are concerned by the Ministry linking the seismic mitigation program to a district-wide 95% capacity target. I have not heard anyone say that a 95% target would improve our students’ education and so put forward the motion:
1. The VBE Board has agreed to work towards achieving a district-wide average capacity utilization of 95% to satisfy Ministry of Education requirements for the Seismic Mitigation Plan (SMP) to move forward as quickly as possible.
2. The VBE’s mission is to enable students to reach their intellectual, social, aesthetic and physical potential in challenging and stimulating settings which reflect the worth of each individual and promote mutual respect, cooperation and social responsibility.
Therefore be it resolved that:
The VBE Board has agreed to work towards achieving 95% capacity as a Ministry requirement, not because it will support our education mission.
Although this was brought forward as an urgent motion to be decided during the board meeting I did vote to refer it to committee for further discussion.
As a district we will continue LRFP consultation both on how best to implement the Interim LRFP and on additional aspects, such as alternative uses for excess space, heritage retention and facilities condition. For more information see: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/VSBengagement#theplan.
At this meeting we also considered Trustee Ballantyne’s motions on Medical Marijuana-related businesses in Vancouver. All trustees agreed that we want safe environments for our students around our schools. I voted with the majority to refer this motion to committee because I would like more information on the development permit review process and clarification of the impacts on our staff. I look forward to our board’s discussion of how we can most effectively bring forward our concerns for our students while working respectfully with the City.