VSB Budget Vote – How to decide?

Tonight the Vancouver School Board trustees will vote on the proposed 2016/17 balanced budget. To balance the budget there are $24 million in cuts, including cuts to literacy teachers, special education, teacher librarians, gifted programs, teacher mentors, career information assistants, secondary teachers, vice principals, mini schools and band and strings. The scale and scope of the cuts will affect every school and student in our district, and will be particularly painful in neighbourhoods where parents can’t afford to fill in the gaps.

I’ve agonized over the seemingly impossible choice of either voting to cut $24 million from our budget or voting against the balanced budget. Without a balanced budget the Minister of Education will dismiss our locally elected board and appoint an official trustee who will balance the budget and run our school district for up to two and a half years. Either way $24 million in cuts will be made in Vancouver schools.

I would love to vote against a balanced budget to take a moral stand against a provincial government that is drastically underfunding BC’s public education. I would love to believe that in doing so the message to all provincial parties would be so strong that stable, adequate and predictable public education funding becomes the key issue in the next provincial election. This would be wonderful for students across BC.

However I must weigh this desire against the full consequences for our students of allowing the provincial government to appoint an official trustee who would run our unique and diverse district with no accountability to Vancouver voters. The official trustee will have the full powers of a board to set policy, close schools and sell land. Our board has taken a strong position on not selling entire school sites to save them for future Vancouver students in our growing city. It is unlikely an official trustee would have the same strong commitment to social justice and equity of access to education – especially for our most vulnerable students – as our current elected board.

It’s shameful that public education is so underfunded in our wealthy province. And it’s frustrating that previous Vision majority boards have used short-term financial fixes and drained reserve funds. This year we are facing the consequences of Vision’s short-term decisions as they led to $18 million of our shortfall, with the remaining $6 million coming from reduced provincial funding.

At the Vancouver School Board, I can be the swing vote as our board of nine trustees has one Green, four Vision and four NPA trustees. I’m still considering this very difficult decision, the most difficult one I’ve faced as a trustee. I will not use our students as pawns in political strategies or one-upmanship as they deserve much better than that. As for every decision I make as a school board trustee I will focus on what is best for our students, or in this case what is least worst for them in both the short and long term, and cast my vote accordingly.

Board meeting – Apr 18

This board meeting’s highlights are the nine motions passed – eight unanimous votes and one split vote.

The unanimous votes were on:

  • Proposed changes to the Vancouver Learning Network (VLN) distributed learning program
  • A revision to the School Closure policy to cover schools where there are no students enrolled
  • A policy for the role of the Board Chair and Vice Chair
  • A policy for the acceptable use of technology
  • Approval of the second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement (AEEA)
  • Approval of the Framework for Enhancing Student Learning, the new reporting structure for student achievement
  • Approval to sign the Pride Pledge in order to participate in the 2016 Vancouver Pride Parade
  • Writing a letter to the Minister of Education, copied to the Premier, endorsing recommendation 21 of the BC Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth’s Final Report on Child & Youth Mental Health in BC, Concrete Actions for Systemic Change

The split vote was on Trustee Ballantyne’s motion requesting staff to report back, as appropriate, on medical marijuana businesses close to schools.  Staff suggested it would be appropriate to report back in the fall as by then many of the business license appeals would be resolved.
I voted in support of this motion as I have heard from many parents concerned about the proliferation of marijuana stores near our schools who do not have the information they need and because it will not unduly burden our staff.

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

CoV LGBTQ2+ advisory committee, PAN arts in elementary schools, special education audit, enhancing student learning, Pride pledge – Apr 13

Highlights from Education & Student Services Committee (III) on April 13.

The CoV LGBTQ2+ advisory committee encourages the VSB to support recommendation 21 of the Concrete Actions for Systemic Change Report of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth:  Require all school districts to support sexual and gender minority youth in schools through general and targeted programs to address child and youth mental health issues.

Submission: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr13_op_commIII_item1.pdf

The Parent Advocacy Network for Public Education (PAN) asks the board for “a commitment to include visual arts as part of their educational focus for their 5 year strategic plan, in order to begin the work of revitalizing the arts within our schools.”

Submission: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr13_op_commIII_handout.pdf

In February 2016 the Ministry of Education performed a Special Education audit in our district, the first since 2005.  We had 2376 students in the supplemental special education funding categories as of September 30, 2015 and 433 files were reviewed and evaluated to see if the students’ categories were accurately reported.  There were 10 recommendations in the final report and the Ministry of Education reduced our district’s funding by $245,000.

Report: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr13_op_commIII_item3.pdf

The “Accountability Framework” mandated by the Ministry of Education is being replaced with the Framework for Enhancing Student Learning.  The (1) District Achievement Contract, (2) Superintendent’s Reports on Student Achievement, (3) District Literacy Plans, and (4) School Planning Councils are no longer required.
District staff, with input from the VTF, VASSA and VEPVPA, have created a proposed timeline to meet the new requirements.  This school year is a transitional year and in October 2016 the 2016/17 district plan will be published and new school plans will be completed by June 2017.
The committee supported the proposed timeline.

Report: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr13_op_commIII_item4.pdf

The VSB has been a participant in the annual Vancouver Pride Parade for many years.  Like last year the Parade organizer, Vancouver Pride Society, has asked all participating organizations to sign the Trans Equality Now (TEN) pledge.
The committee supported the proposal to approve signing the TEN pledge in order to participate in the 2016 Vancouver Pride Parade.

Report: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr13_op_commIII_item5.pdf 

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

Corinne’s Quest, VLN, closure policy, role of chair, strategic plan, summer school – Apr 6

Highlights from Committee I on April 6.

The mission of Corrine’s Quest is to promote the raising of children in a positive, non-violent manner, and to press for repeal of Section 43 of the Criminal Code.
You can help promote the vision and aims of Corinne’s Quest by visiting CorrinesQuest.ca, becoming informed on the issues, speaking to other parents and family members, and by adding your name to our list of supporters.

Information: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr06_op_commI_item1_Delegation.pdf

Reorganization of the Vancouver Learning Network (VLN) is proposed with the goal of increasing opportunities for student success and improving completion rates.  The Elementary program would be relocated to an elementary school and the core Secondary program would be relocated to Tupper Secondary.  The committee supported the proposed changes.  Thank you to the many parents and students who wrote to trustees, spoke at or attended this meeting.

Report: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr06_op_commI_item3_0.pdf

The proposed revision of the School Closure Policy sets policy for schools at which no students are enrolled.  The revision would allow for consultation and closure in a more timely manner than for a school with students.  The committee supported the revision.

Report: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr06_op_commI_item4_0.pdf

A revised draft policy for the Role of the Board Chair and Vice Chair was presented.  The revisions captured Committee I comments on the first draft, and the committee supported the draft policy.

Report: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr06_op_commI_item5_0.pdf

Phase 1, Exploring Ideas, in the development of a new five-year strategic plan is complete.
The goal was to ensure broad awareness of the process, to engage a range of audiences and to gather substantive input to guide plan development.
Four key themes emerged:
1.  Providing innovative pathways to learning
2.  Building capacity through leadership and professional learning
3.  Creating a culture of care and community
4.  Enhancing stewardship and governance

Phase 1 input supported the established goals of the district’s Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement (AEA) and it is important that the key themes recognize, support and align with the current AEA agreement.

Phase 2 is Setting Directions, Making Choices.   The four key themes will be explored further to discuss where to focus in the next 5 years – look for engagement activities.

Report: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr06_op_commI_item6.pdf

Summer School 2016 will be at 7 elementary schools and 7 secondary schools, with the Magee programs moving to Hamber because of construction work.  The K-12 program includes Preview, Remedial, English Language Learning, French Immersion, Gifted, Skill Development and Completion – 73 new courses have been developed.  The report outlines the communication plan, the promotional strategies and survey results.

Report: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr06_op_commI_item7.pdf

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

My opinion in the Vancouver Sun – VSB requires stable funding to create a vision – Apr 11

This opinion piece was published in the Vancouver Sun on April 11 and collects my thoughts about the VSB 2016/17 budget proposals as trustees prepare for our budget vote on April 28.

A strong public education system is essential to the success of any society.  As a Vancouver School Board (VSB) trustee I want to do everything I can to ensure our students learn so that they will become successful, engaged citizens.

With the second lowest per student funding in Canada I know that B.C. public education is underfunded and that our board must effectively advocate for stable, predictable and adequate funding.  Even so we must also build a respectful working relationship with the Province and manage our finances well with a long-term vision for financial stability.

At the VSB we are facing $24.6 million in budget cuts (60 separate proposals) in order to set a balanced budget for the 2016/17 school year.  Within the $24.6 million, $3.1 million is from reductions in provincial funding, $3.0 million is due to enrolment decline but most, $18.5 million, is the consequence of previous years’ one-time savings.  This is largely due to the short-term decisions made by previous boards that created a structural budget deficit – coming in a VSB trustee our on-going base operations costs were more than our revenue and were being funded by one-time savings.

For example, in 2014/15 the board took $2.5 million from the Local Capital Reserve (LCR) to fund the operating deficit, with no plan beyond one year funding, and committed the LCR revenue for three years.  As a consequence, in 2015 this board approved borrowing $1.6 million from a bank to fully fund (the Province would not cover inflation costs) construction of the new elementary school at International Village as we had no available capital reserves.

In choosing to not close any schools while student enrolment declined, which results in lower funding, previous boards created a financially unsustainable district.  Every school has fixed operating costs (including heating and lighting, maintenance, principal or vice principal, office support and custodians) so running schools with very few students or at very low capacity cannot be a long-term solution with increasingly limited funding.

And in preparing last year’s budget the board voted to match the adult education services to the funding received.  While I was very saddened there were cuts to this program it is now revenue neutral and can build towards long-term success.  The Vision trustees’ argument against closing two of five adult education sites to reduce on-going costs by $660,000 was that there would not be any savings in the first year.

The Province’s answer to our budget shortfall is that we should use our accumulated surplus of $24.1 million to cover our costs.  However just because provincial accounting regulations have a line with the title “accumulated surplus” this does not mean we have that money waiting to be spent.  $13.8 million of the $24.1 million has already been applied to the 2016/17 budget shortfall and the remaining funds are restricted to their programs/purchases.  The VSB is changing its accounting practices to reduce the “accumulated surplus” line (estimated to be $11.2 million in 2016 and $3.4 million in 2017) but this does not create any new money.  Does the Minister of Education really think we would be considering a proposal to cut twelve literacy teachers at our most disadvantaged elementary schools if we had $24.1 million available to spend?

Unfortunately the magnitude of 2016/17 budget shortfall is so great that of the $24.6 million proposed cuts $8.01 million are from one-time savings and so will be carried forward to next year’s shortfall.  And on top of this figure will be the usual costs not funded by the province, including inflation, BC Hydro rate increases and employee benefits increases (e.g. MSP premiums).

Vancouver, like any school district, needs stable, predictable and adequate funding to continue to provide high quality public education.   School districts must be able to create and support a vision for student success based on long-term, sustainable financial planning yet during this budget cycle trustees across the province will be making heartbreaking decisions to balance their budgets.

Gordon yellow schoolhouse, Fleming seismic upgrade – Apr 6

Highlights from the board meeting of April 6.

Trustees considered a motion passed by the Vancouver Heritage Commission (VHC) to request an extension to the deadline for submitting requests of interest for the Gordon yellow schoolhouse.  We decided to stay with the original deadline so as to ensure students could return in September and to minimize the financial risk of having to deal with a property not required for educational purposes.

VHC motion: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Apr06_sp_op_board_agenda_itemII.A.1.pdf

The Project Agreement was recently signed for the new seismically safe building for Fleming Elementary.  We now have three elementary schools, Nelson, Kingsford-Smith and Fleming, in the design phase.  Once the design work is complete the projects will be tendered and then construction will begin.

Seismic project steps: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/capital-projects
VSB seismic program: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/seismic-information

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

Budget Proposals – Mar 31

There was a joint Education & Student Services (III) and Finance & Legal (V) Committee meeting on March 31.

The Fiscal Framework (a review of our district’s finances) was provided.  Key points are that K-12 enrolment has decreased each year since 2011/12, by a total of 3,155 FTE students.  Over the same five years staffing has decreased by 193.43 FTE.
Provincial funding accounts for over 92% of VSB revenues.  By function about 83% of our expenses are for instruction, and by type about 92% of our expenses are for salaries and benefits.
The 2016/17 projected shortfall is $27.26 million, with the largest contributor being $19.59 million from previous years’ one-time savings.  Costs not funded by the province/reduction in provincial funding is $7.64 million, and enrolment decrease accounts for $1.03 million.
Long term financial sustainability is considered, particularly the balance between on-going reductions to the base budget and one-time funding.  Previous boards have relied heavily on one-time funding without having a long term plan for financial sustainability.

Report: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Mar31_op_plen_III_V_Item%202_1.pdf

The Restoration Budget, how much more the 2016/17 budget would be if 2002/03 service levels were maintained, was presented as $82 million.

Report:  http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Mar31_op_plen_III_V_item3.pdf

The 2016/17 Preliminary Budget Proposals were presented:
60 proposals ($27.26M) – 15 administrative ($7.51M) , 9 facilities (2.49M) and a devastating 46 ($17.26M) for education.
Proposals that will save $1.0 million or more are:
Administrative – Additional lease revenue $1.00M – ongoing
Administrative – Borrowing school balances $2.06M – one-time
Administrative – Change in PO practice $1.20M – one-time
Administrative – School based office support $1.08M (22.40 FTE) – ongoing
Facilities – Maintenance service reductions $1.00M (10.00 FTE) – ongoing
Education – District Learning Services services & supplies $1.10M – ongoing
Education – School flex budget $1.18M – ongoing
Education – Surplus carryforward $3.13M – one-time
Education – Secondary teacher staffing $2.95M (33.00 FTE) – ongoing
Education – Enhanced Services literacy teachers $1.11M (12.00 FTE) – ongoing
Education – Elementary non-enrolling staffing $1.05M (11.36 FTE) – ongoing
Education – Estimated severance $1.00M – one-time

In total 167.1 FTE positions will be eliminated, 120.90 in education.
Ongoing cuts are $19.25M and one-time cuts $8.01M.

It is difficult to digest so many proposals or to understand the cumulative impact they will have on our students’ education.  I listed the proposals above by monetary value alone as to consider and rank the impact is overwhelming.  For each recommendation the report gives background and analysis for each proposal.

There are several weeks to consider the proposals and I encourage anyone to offer their opinions or suggestions to trustees either in writing or in person (see budget schedule and process).  I know that in the next month I will spend much time listening to how the cuts will affect our students.

The School Act requires every district to approve a balanced budget and trustees vote on the budget proposals on April 28.  Any board that has not approved a balanced budget has been dismissed and an official trustee has been appointed by the Minister of Education.

As bad as the news is this year, there is no relief for the 2017/18 budget as the preliminary budget projection is a $14.62 million shortfall.

Report:  http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/16Mar31_op_plen_III_V_Item%201.pdf