11/12 schools could close, but not Britannia Secondary

This year the VSB developed and unanimously approved a Long Range Facilities Plan (LRFP), a framework for the future of Vancouver’s schools, including that all schools be seismically safe by 2030.  In approving the LRFP trustees also directed VSB staff to prepare a preliminary list of schools that could be considered for closure, and the list of 12 schools was released in June.

At a September 15 committee meeting of all trustees we unanimously recommended that the 11/12 schools should be considered for closure and that they move forward to the public consultation phase.  Britannia Secondary was the only school that was not recommended to be considered for closure.

Why would trustees recommend schools be considered for closure when this is incredibly disruptive to students, their families and their neighbourhoods?  Key reasons include:

  1.  To move forward our seismic safety program we must work within the Ministry of Education’s requirements including moving towards a 95% district wide capacity utilization and using existing school buildings to temporarily house students from schools where seismic construction means they cannot stay at their school site. Closing schools will increase our capacity utilization and eight of the twelve schools on the list could be used for temporary accommodation.
    In Vancouver there are 64 schools that are not approved seismic projects, which means that 28,000 students and hundreds of staff are in seismically unsafe schools every school day.
  2. We are still facing a budget crisis as next year’s projected shortfall is $15 M – to create a balanced budget we need to cut $15 M from the programs, teaching and resources provided this year.
    If all 12 schools were closed that would save about $7 M.
    If all the cuts that were removed from last year’s budget (inc. 10 school based office support staff, Athletic Coodinator, Fine & Performing Arts Coordinator, Anti-Homophobia Mentor, 1 multicultural liaison worker, 3 district gifted staff, 18 secondary teachers, 9 Enhanced Services (Inner City) literacy teachers, 12 special education support workers, and 6 elementary non-enrolling staff) were reinstated it would save about $5.5 M.
    It is anticipated leasing schools not needed for seismic temporary accommodation would provide $0.5 M in income.
    An additional $2 M in cuts to programs, teaching and resources are required to balance the $15 M shortfall.
    For any school not closed additional cuts equal to the amount of money that would be saved by closing the school would be required to balance the budget.
  3. The province is not providing funds to build new schools in areas of our city where student enrollment is increasing.  Last year we had 14 elementary schools and 2 annexes declared full and more than 100 Kindergarten students could not register at their catchment school.  Increasing capacity utilization should improve our chances of securing Ministry funding for new schools.

As for all of the 12 schools on the possible closure list there was a recommendation that Britannia be considered for closure and proceed to public consultation.

It was very challenging to consider any school for closure but I struggled particularly with Britannia Secondary because on July 6, 2015 our board unanimously passed a motion that included the VSB undertake a review of the Truth and Reconciliation Report and commit its full support to reconciliation.  As Britannia Secondary has 189 students of Aboriginal ancestry, the most at any secondary school, it is difficult to reconcile the VSB committing its full support to reconciliation with considering this school for closure. As such I decided that to consider Britannia Secondary for closure without broad support from our board would be too divisive to both our school district and our city.

I acknowledge that not considering Britannia for closure has significant impacts to our district:

  • There does not appear to be a route forward for either Britannia or Templeton to become seismically safe.
  • Removing Britannia as a temporary accommodation site may reduce our district’s ability to achieve seismically safe schools by 2030.
  • An additional $2 million in cuts will be required in next year’s budget.
  • There does not appear to be a route forward to increase the size of King George Secondary, currently operating at 120% capacity, to respond to increasing student enrolment downtown.

It is the unfortunate reality that all BC trustees must work within the mandated provincial funding and follow the provincial seismic requirements, for example for capacity utilization.  The province has the money and sets the rules.
Vancouver trustees took the extreme step of not approving a balanced budget last year but even this action did not prevent the $21 million of cuts required to balance the budget.  All BC trustees face very difficult decisions in the intertwined areas of school closures/seismic programs and budget, and I believe we must continue to advocate for stable, predictable and adequate funding for public education.

I would like to thank everyone who came to our meeting last night as well as everyone who has participated so far – there are so many people who care so deeply about both their own schools and BC’s public education.  I realize the recommendation to consider 11/12 schools for closure will be very disappointing and upsetting to many people but as we move into consultation my hope is that many people will participate so that any decision of the trustees is based on all the input and information possible.

Finally I would like to thank every one of the VSB staff who worked on the LRFP and possible school closures.  Trustees direct our staff to undertake incredibly difficult tasks, such as proposing cuts to balance budgets and recommending schools for closure, and I appriciate the thorough and respectful manner is which such sensitive tasks have been handled.