Board meeting – June 29 – Minister’s proposal

What’s good for our students?  Operating funds that are stable, adequate and predictable, not last-minute, one-time money that depletes our capital assets.

Yesterday our VSB Chair reported that at a private board meeting immediately preceding the public board meeting a majority of trustees rejected the Minister of Education’s proposal to address $5.6 million of our $21.8 million 2016/17 budget shortfall.
The proposal was that the VSB could use $5.6 million from selling Kingsgate Mall in 2016/17 to reduce the budget shortfall from $21.8 million to $16.2 million, and that if the sale does not happen in the 2016/17 school year the Ministry would guarantee this amount in exchange for a small ownership share in the mall.

Why am I pleased the VSB rejected the Minister’s proposal?

Selling capital assets is not a good way to fund ongoing operating costs.  The Kingsgate Mall currently generates $750,000 per year in lease revenue; over 10 years that is $7.5 million and the underlying capital asset remains.  If the Minister’s proposal had been to use $5.6 million this year with repayment from lease revenue that would have been a different question.

The 2016/17 budget shortfall is $21.8 million and injecting $5.6 million would address the most severe, level 3 and 4 cuts, for that year.  However looking forward one year to 2017/18 the estimated shortfall is about $14 million and even if all 12 schools on the potential closure list were closed, cutting costs by about $8 million, the shortfall would be about $6 million.  With having to fund $5.6 million costs again the total shortfall would be about $12 million – while one-time extra funding would be good that year it just pushes the funding crisis to the next year while depleting our capital assets.

In addition this proposal came on the last possible day in our budget process.  The balanced budget with $21.8 million in cuts has already been implemented by the Superintendent as he has the responsibility to ensure our schools are ready for September and that our district does not incur any financial liability.  Many staff positions have been eliminated and the Minister was well aware that our collective agreements require staffing be set at the start of June.  Changing the budget requires new proposals and board approval – as this would now happen in September there would be a significant mid-term adjustment to teachers and support staff.

And finally, as a trustee I take seriously our board’s stewardship of our public assets, our lands and buildings.  During my time as trustee I want to maintain these public assets beyond any election cycle so that future trustees can better provide for future students.  Selling land and using the proceeds to fund operating costs during my term would worsen our district’s long-term financial stability and sustainability.

I believe this board has worked hard for the benefit of our students in trying to achieve long-term financial stability and sustainability.
We are considering many of the recommendations in the EY Special Advisor’s Report and implementing the appropriate ones.
We have prepared a Long Range Facilities Plan and unanimously asked staff to prepare a list of schools for potential closure.
We have the framework for a new five-year Strategic Plan.
We considered the 2016/17 budget proposals and could not accept them as the cuts are too severe for our students.  I believe voting not to accept a balanced budget will be better for public education in the long-term.  Maybe our vote was a factor in the Minister’s decision to reverse some of the “administrative” cuts across the province.
We considered the Minister’s proposal to spend $5.6 million our own capital money on operating costs and decided this would not be in the best interests of our students.

Our board will not submit a balanced budget by the end June and so I wait for the Minister’s response.


VSB news release:

Ministry of Education news release:


Board meeting – June 20

A very busy meeting with 21 votes, 16 of them unanimous with another unanimous with one abstention (these are my counts and the minutes may prove me wrong).  Highlights include:

Trustee Robertson proposed that his Britannia motion be referred to our September board meeting as discussions are already underway – all trustees agreed with the referral.

Trustees unanimously confirmed that Tennyson Elementary would be a seismic replacement (new school) and Jamieson Elementary would be a seismic upgrade.  For Tennyson the $26.1 million estimated cost for a new school is significantly lower than the $36.9 for a seismic upgrade.  In contrast, for Jamieson the estimated cost of the upgrade is $13.1 million and replacement is $23.9 million.

Trustees also unanimously approved closure of Maquinna Annex.  There were no student enrolled this year and there were no concerns from the community about the closure.

Laurier and Henderson Annexes are earlier in the closure process and trustees unanimously approved they be considered for closure.  They will both have no students enrolled next year.

After several defeated amendments that proposed greater rate increases trustees voted unanimously to increase rental rates for VSB gyms by 5% per annum for the next three years, and to charge a 10% premium for newer gyms.  The same 5% over the next three years rate increases were approved for filming.  While I want to maximize our rental income I do not want to lose rentals because they are too expensive as, especially our gyms, serve our local communities.  I am not a rental market expert and I trust our staff to bring reasonable proposals and ask that we review this budget change as part of our budget process next year, as the 2015/16 budget proposals were reviewed this year.

The leasing criteria for the selection of proponents to lease surplus school space were considered.  I voted with the majority (8-1) of trustees to not lease to independent schools as I do not want to use our public school buildings for private education and I do not want to decrease our enrolment and so also reduce our funding.  Trustees unanimously supported grandfathering current independent schools.

Congratulations Trafalgar Elementary!  Their application for candidate status with the UNESCO Associated Schools Network in Canada was unanimously approved.  This initiative closely aligns with Trafalgar’s existing areas of focus including social and environmental global awareness, leadership and community partnerships.

Trustees unanimously approved the new policy District Parent Advisory Council Expenditure Guidelines.  The draft policy has been discussed with DPAC over several years but I did not acknowledge that changes to Section 2 – Conferences and Professional Development, approval from VSB in advance for these expenses, were only presented to DPAC this month.

My motion, that the Board of Education direct staff to explore working with an interested external organization towards a self-sustained before or after school extracurricular band/strings activity at interested elementary schools for the 2017-2018 school year, at no budget or staffing cost to the district, was referred to committee for stakeholder input and discussion.

Trustees voted 8-0 (Trustee Ballantyne abstained) to support a motion from the District Advocacy Committee that the VSB request an urgent meeting with the Minister of Education to discuss the 2016-2017 budget shortfall.  The Minister’s April 15 response to our March 4 request to meet with him and discuss our budget was that it was premature to meet at that time – certainly not the case now at the end of June.

Finally, trustees voted unanimously in support of a second motion from the District Advocacy Committee to send information about the updated Long Range Facilities Plan and implementation to the Mayor, City Councillors, Park Board Commissioners, Vancouver MLAs and MPs.  We do have many materials available on our website and the most appropriate will be sent to these elected representatives.

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

Board meeting – June 20 – School Closures

On May 24 VSB trustees unanimously approved the updated Long Range Facilities Plan (LRFP), including the requirement that senior VSB staff compile a preliminary list of schools for consideration for closure.  That list, based on the LRFP school closure factors created with community consultation, was presented by the Superintendent at the June 20 board meeting.  There are two secondary schools, six elementary schools and four elementary annexes on the list.

As a trustee I do not want to close any schools – but I also want all our students and staff to be in seismically safe buildings, have new schools in neighbourhoods that have a lottery for Kindergarten places, and be able to fund more educational programs across the district.

Trustees have to make the difficult decisions about how to best support student learning using the available funding.  By directing staff to compile this list I believe trustees are considering how to achieve the seismic funding requirement of targeting 95% capacity utilization across the district, how to provide temporary accommodation for seismic upgrades/renewals, and how to save money by reducing our building operating costs so more money can be directed to programs and staff.

The list is the first step in considering possible school closures.  In September trustees will receive detailed reports for each listed school that will include the impact of closure on vulnerable students and families, how to address childcare services, and a clear understanding of what will happen to school-specific programs and services.  Trustees will decide which schools to move forward with the closure process, with consultation in October and November.  In December trustees will decide if any schools will close.

I know that every VSB school is valued and important to their community which makes considering closing any school very difficult for trustees.  It is the VSB’s intention that the process and consultation be clear, transparent and respectful with open communication and multiple opportunities for students, parents, VSB stakeholders and the public to provide input.

Finally, I believe that BC public education is underfunded.  I voted against the cuts required for a balanced 2016/17 budget as the impact on our students is too severe.  I appreciate that some extra funding has been given to BC’s students but at present I am still willing to be dismissed as a trustee in the hope of achieving better public education funding.

2015/16 Auditor (Office of the Auditor General), DPAC Expenditure Policy, Financial Year End June/16 – June 15

Highlights from the Finance & Legal Committee (V) of June 15.

The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) of BC will be the VSB’s auditor for the current 2015/16 financial year.  Three of our audit team, Russ Jones, Deputy Auditor General, (by phone), Christopher Thomas and Chris Lawson presented their audit plan.
They already know the audit will have a qualified opinion as there is a difference in interpretation of the Canadian Public Sector Accounting Standards between the Province of BC and the OAG around how capital transfer payments are accounted for.  All BC school districts must follow the Province’s rules so all districts audited by the OAG will have a qualified opinion.
The OAG will vary their procedures as the implementation of the new PeopleSoft Administrative program is not complete – automated processes are not yet reliable and manual controls must be used.
They shared that it is not their role to comment on how surpluses are recorded but said the Province is leading a review of this issue that could redefine terms.
This audit cost, $75,000, will be the same as last year’s audit by a private firm.


A policy for District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) Expenditures was presented and the committee supports board approval.  It will be clarified that transit costs are covered by the policy in addition to vehicle mileage.


The projected operating surplus for this current 2015/16 financial year has been updated to $802K from the most recent estimate of $1.23 million in February.  Leave accruals and employee benefits cost more than expected, WorkSafe BC & ICBC costs and utilities were less than expected.


For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

Maquinna, Laurier & Henderson Annexes, Tennyson & Jamieson Seismic, John Oliver, Rental Rates & Leasing Criteria – June 15

Highlights from the joint Planning & Facilities/Education & Student Services Committee (II/III) meeting of June 15.

Thank you to the three John Oliver Secondary parent and alumni delegations as well as the Lord Tennyson Elementary delegation who shared their views and concerns with committee members.

The committee recommends that the board approve Maquinna Annex for closure.  There were no students enrolled this year, catchment enrolment is not expected to increase and there were on concerns expressed by the school community or the public about the proposed closure.
The committee recommends that the board approve Laurier & Henderson Annexes be considered for closure after consultation with the school community.  These two annexes will have no students enrolled next school year.


Two elementary schools are taking different routes to achieving seismic safety.  The project definition reports (PDRs), which explore the seismic mitigation options, implementation logistics, project risks and cost estimates, were considered for Tennyson and Jamieson.
For Tennyson the committee recommends that the board approve a full replacement school with the major factor being the $26.1 million estimated cost for a new school is significantly lower than the $36.9 for a seismic upgrade.  The Tennyson delegation reported that many parents are in support of a full rebuild, they thank the seismic team for all their hard work, but were on occasion frustrated by the lack of detailed information and short timelines for feedback.
For Jamieson the committee recommends that the board approve a seismic upgrade.  Here the estimated cost of the upgrade is $13.1 million and a replacement school is $23.9 million.
If board approval is received the next steps are to finalize the PDR, secure a Project Agreement with the Ministry of Education (which assures project funding), then begin the design phase (including civic permits) which typically takes at least a year.  When all this work is complete the project will go to tender and construction.


The VSB rents school facilities and grounds to the public when they are not required for K-12 education or other district programs and budget proposals identify increased revenue from increased rental rates.  Current rental rates for local school districts and Vancouver community centres are tabulated, and other districts’ proposed rate increases are acknowledged.
The committee recommends that rental rates for gyms and filming be increased by 5% per year for the next three years and that newer gyms be charged at a 10% premium over the regular rates for older gyms.


In the 2016/17 school year three annexes will not have any students, Maquinna, Laurier & Henderson, and the VSB could get revenue if they were leased (there are currently 35 interested parties) which could be used to support educational programs and services.  In addition there could be school closures for the 2017/18 school year.
Staff prepared surplus space lease criteria and trustees discussed whether to restrict leasing to for-profits (businesses) and indepenedent schools.  The committee’s recommendation was to consider leasing to for-profits but not to independent schools, with the exception of grandfathering any current leases.  The lease criteria will be the basis for creating a policy for board approval.
I see this a balance between maximizing revenue to support our students’ education and considering appropriate tenants on school sites.  I support the committee’s recommendation as appropriate for-profit uses can be defined by policy and leasing to independent schools would both decrease our student enrolment (and so reduce our funding) and allow the use of public school facilities for private use.


For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

UNESCO Candidate School, School Plans, DPAC, Curriculum & Assessment Changes – June 8

Highlights from the June 8 Education and Student Services Committee (III).

This committee supports the application by Trafalgar Elementary to become a UNESCO Candidate School.  A group of teachers began with a collaborative inquiry project and then engaged with school staff, students, parents and their administration to build on the current school initiatives around sustainability, poverty & inequality, and refugees & migrants, to create excitement and commitment to this application.  Thank you Trafalgar for opening the doors to the world through this UNESCO process.


Vancouver schools have completed abbreviated school plans (progress made with this year’s goals and next year’s focus) because the province is moving towards new reporting requirements.
All of our schools have a school goal “To increase knowledge, acceptance, empathy, awareness and appreciation of Aboriginal histories, traditions, cultures and contributions among all students” and most have goals around some aspect of literacy, numeracy or social responsibility.  School plans will be posted on the district website and linked to each school’s website.
This committee supported approving the 2016/17 school plans.


An update on recommendations made in a District Parents’ Advisory Council (DPAC) report a year ago was presented – progress has been made in several areas, including regularly posting meeting minutes and financial data.  DPAC is an autonomous organization but receives funds from the Board so it is important these are publicly budgeted and reported on.
I thank all the parents who have contributed their time this year to serving our students on DPAC – I know many parents volunteer at their school and acknowledge the extra commitment DPAC parents make to our district as a whole.


The Ministry of Education is making changes to curriculum and assessment and all available information is in the report.  The revised Kindergarten to Grade 9 curriculum will be fully implemented in all schools in September 2016.  Early drafts of the Grade 10-12 curriculum are posted online for teacher feedback and revised 10-12 curriculum will be available this summer.  By 2017/18 the entire revised curriculum will be in use throughout the province.
This year the Ministry provided two additional non-instructional days for K-12 teachers and for the next two years there will be an additional day.
The number of credits required to graduate will stay as 80.  There will be two provinical assessments focused on literacy and numeracy instead of the five provincial exams, other subjects will be assessed in class.
The Ministry is looking at changes to the elementary assessment program, currently the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA), but there is no information available yet.
For reporting the Ministry says “Starting next month and continuing through October 2016, we will be asking parents for input on what they would like to know about their child’s progress and how they want to get that information”.  No further details are available.


Questions were raised about Reading Recovery and other early literacy interventions in schools and the entry requirements/administration process for secondary mini schools.  With committee agreement, staff will report back at a future meeting.

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

Board meeting – June 7 – possibilities for extra-curricular elementary band and strings

Staff presented the most recent revisions to the 2016/17 budget proposals with the additional $2.25 million funding from the province.  While I appreciate any money for our budget I am very aware that our district is implementing $21.8 million in cuts. $5.65 million of these cuts are at level 3 and 4 – they include 71 FTE positions and are the most severe that have a direct impact on on classrooms and student learning.

Full proposals:

Six of our VSB stakeholders delegations spoke to trustees and the four who addressed whether to approve or reject the budget (DPAC, VESTA, VSTA and CUPE Local 15) all asked that we continue to reject the budget.
We also had presentations from members of the public and community groups, including the GLD Advocacy Group, PAN, FOSL and mentors/mentees from our gifted program.
Thank you everyone for taking the time to consider the budget revisions and to come and present to trustees.  I also appreciate all the students, parents and teachers who rallied before the meeting to support the optional elementary band and strings program.

After hearing from the delegations trustees had the opportunity make changes to the recommended budget revisions but no amendments were proposed.

As a trustee I have heard a great deal about the elementary optional band and strings program and how much this program is valued by students and their families.  At our next board meeting I intend to make a notice of motion to ask staff to explore the possibility of working with a community partner/group/organization towards a sustainable before or after school extracurricular band/strings activity at elementary schools for 2017, at no budget cost to the district.
The intent of this motion is not to replace or undermine the mandated elementary school music curriculum taught by teachers during school hours but to provide an extra opportunity for our students who enjoy playing instruments.  Schools are the hubs of our neighbourhoods and my intent is to explore the possibility of having more extracurricular music available for our school communities.

Our current optional band and strings programs are highly valued by our students and parents but they are not the core music education program in those schools.  We do not receive any funding from the province for these optional programs and they are offered at 44 of our 75 (60%) grade 5-7 elementary schools.  These programs require $400,000 budget funding and we have challenges with student equity of access as well as student financial equity with the program fees.  The recent report (pages 60-82) shows that moving to a mandated prep model would be too expensive, as would a $400-500 user pay system as students would cannot afford the fees cannot be denied access.

All our elementary schools provide music education (as mandated by the provincial curriculum) to students in Kindergarten to Grade 7.  Several schools offer band or strings to entire classes during classroom teachers’ preparation time within their curriculum music.  Music programs, including band, are available as electives at all secondary schools.

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

Board meeting – June 6

Highlights from our meeting include:

Hana Woldeyes, a Tupper student, shared her story as an immigrant youth who had to quickly learn about life in Canada.  She participated in our Engaged Immigrant Youth Program (EIYP) and from her first experience of storytelling in public she has gone from strength to strength studying, volunteering and receiving numerous awards and recognitions.  Thank you for helping other young people and good luck  at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

The Britannia motion was tabled until our next board meeting on June 20.


Trustees voted unanimously to adopt the revised policies for the District Code of Conduct Policy and Extended Off Continent Field Studies.

The recently revised budget proposals were introduced but the staff presentation will at the budget meeting tomorrow (June 7), as well as VSB stakeholder delegations and public speakers.


One of our shortest meetings, just about an hour long.

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

Aboriginal Centre, Strategic Plan, Election Guidelines, Code of Conduct, Off Continent Field Studies – June 1

Highlights of the June 1 Committee I meeting include:

The VSB is exploring opportunities to partner with Aboriginal communities to create a centre for Aboriginal education, culture and history that could also provide a new building for our Aboriginal Focus School.  Feedback from a first advisory committee discussion includes:

  • The need for extensive stakeholder involvement and input
  • The need to move slowly and to take the time to do this properly
  • The project must be framed from a positive position
  • That the Aboriginal narrative and value systems must be recognized and included in all parts of the process, with a holistic approach

I look forward to the VSB continuing respectful discussions on this issue.


The Strategic Plan update highlighted:

  • Phase 2 is complete and the input received is being analyzed
  • An updated timeline – the framework will be provided in June, operational actions and targets will be developed in July/August and the plan will come for approval in September
  • The plan template includes Vision, Guiding Principles and Long-term Strategic Goals.  For each Goal there will be 3-5 short-term objectives that translate into the operational plan.
  • The plan will be responsive and flexible, and will be assessed annually.

We focus a great deal on our financial responsibilities, for example the budget and the LRFP, but I am really pleased through developing this plan we are directly addressing student learning.


The Guidelines for Election Campaigning and Politically Motivated Communications were presented and reviewed.  Trustees agreed that they provide clear guidance and that it would be helpful if they were again brought to the attention of administrators, teachers and school staff before the next provincial election.
There was also discussion about student media release policy/consent forms for school events, and in particular those attended by politicians.  Staff will review the current situation and report back at a future Committee I meeting.


The revised District Code of Conduct was considered.  There were very few revisions as a result of feedback from stakeholders and the committee representatives.  This committee recommended approval.


The revised (from 2009) Off Continent Field Studies policy was presented, including:

  • Information about Global Affairs Canada has been added
  • Guidance has been added for Government of Canada travel advisories
  • Clear guidelines for travel insurance
  • Limiting off continent travel to secondary students
  • Outlining expectations for volunteers

I believe these revisions appropriately address international travel for our students.  This committee recommended approval.


For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see: