VSB: Looking back and moving forward

On November 15, 2014 nine trustees were elected by Vancouver voters to guide our students’ success – trustees develop and implement plans and policies, set the budget, and speak up for our students.  We were locally elected to listen to our communities to best understand our district’s strengths, challenges and the demands on our system.

On October 17, 2016 our entire board, all nine trustees, were dismissed from office by the Minister of Education.  I am very disappointed and saddened that the locally elected trustees can no longer represent the Vancouver electorate and that for at least a year there will be a single Official Trustee.

As a former trustee and a parent of three children in Vancouver’s schools I care about public education in Vancouver and across BC and want to continue to work on behalf of our students.  I want to continue to listen to our VSB stakeholders, including students, parents, staff and community members and can be contacted by email at janetfraservancouver@gmail.com or by text 604-362-1826.

I will go to VSB board and committee meetings while the Official Trustee holds office so as to know what is happening in our district and how the decisions are made.  Key questions are what proposals can be made for a balanced 2017/18 budget when there is an estimated $15 million shortfall, what will happen with the suspended school closure process, and the future of non-school sites such as Kingsgate Mall.

In our nearly two years as a board we developed and approved two significant plans:

  • Long Range Facilities Plan (May 2016): To guide facilities planning to 2030 and ensure timely completion of the Seismic Mitigation Program.
  • Five-year Strategic Plan and 2016-17 Priorities (October 2016): A framework to implement prioritized key objectives to achieve the vision of inspiring student success by providing an innovative, caring and responsive learning environment.

These plans were both developed with significant VSB stakeholder and community input and were passed unanimously by our board.

Key motions approved include one I introduced to protect school lands for generations of students to come: That the VBE commit to not sell school lands but maintain or increase our current number of school sites to preserve neighbourhood sites for current and future educational and community use. This would not preclude land swaps or the sale of portion of school sites provided that educational programs could still be offered.
Our board also recently approved a lease/license policy to not lease property to independent schools to secure public capital assets for community use and maintain our student enrolment.

My hope is that the Official Trustee will acknowledge and honour the direction set by our elected board as she makes decisions during her term in office.
My hope is that she will continue the highly valued practice of consulting with VSB stakeholders, students, parents, all our employee groups and community members, to fully understand our diverse and complex district.

The VSB focus should be, as always, student success in safe buildings.

Long Range Facilities Plan:
Public Consultation Report for Long Range Facilities Plan:
Strategic Plan:
Strategic Plan, 2016-17 Priorities:
Not sell school lands motion:
Policy FO: Lease / License to Occupy Selection Criteria:

Approval of the 2016/17 budget

In June 2016 I, and a majority of trustees, did not vote to approve the 2016/17 balanced budget proposals with their $21.8 million cuts.  At our board meeting next Monday I now intend to approve the budget and here’s why.

When our board did not approve the budget I expected one of two outcomes – that we would be dismissed as a board or the province would provide sufficient funding, approx $5.6 million, to reverse the most severe cuts.  As this funding was not forthcoming I knew that even without board approval the balanced budget would be implemented by staff, to comply with the School Act, and the $21.8 million in cuts would be carried out.

I did not expect that we would continue to serve at trustees in a strange financial limbo, described in the Minister’s July 4 letter, “Notwithstanding the failure to pass a balanced budget, I can confirm that the Board has the authority to spend and manage its financial resources in the interim as we resolve this challenge”.

We are now approaching the 2016/17 first quarter financial update, preparing for the amended 2016/17 budget in February, and updating the 2017/18 projected shortfall not having an approved budget is becoming increasingly cumbersome to our staff.

For example, in the School Act unless an annual budget is adopted it cannot be amended:
113 (1) A board, by bylaw,
(a) must adopt an annual budget on or before June 30 of each year for the next fiscal year, and
(b) may amend the annual budget adopted under paragraph (a).

In addition, approving the budget now does not change any of the proposals, their implementation, or my original reasons for not approving the budget – that the cumulative cuts were too deep and their impact on our students’ education was too great.

Finally, complying with the School Act requirement to adopt a budget will likely improve our board’s relationship with the Minister of Education as we try to resolve the intertwined issues of balanced budgets, the long range facility plan, school closures and seismically safe schools.

As an added comment: School closures (except for the three Annexes with no students, Maquinna, Henderson & Laurier) are not in this year’s budget but would have affected the upcoming 2017/18 budget.

October 17 Board Meeting – Notice of Motion: Reconsideration of the 2016-2017 Operating Budget:

Minister of Education’s July 4 letter:

Board meeting – October 3

Highlights from our October 3 board meeting include:

Most people are likely aware that this motion was approved, as recommended by the Acting Superintendent: That the process for considering the 11 school closures initiated by the VSB on September 26, 2016 be suspended effectively immediately.

The Acting Superintendent made three further recommendations that were referred to the Planning & Facilities Committee (II):

  • That a report recommending strategies for expediting and accelerating seismic upgrades using available school space be prepared for the Board.
  • That a report recommending processes and timelines for updating the Long Range Facilities Plan (LRFP) be developed for the Board.
  • That there be further review and report to the Board on a review of policies on School Closures and other matters.

And a further five recommendations were referred to the Management Coordinating Committee (I).

  • That staff develop a plan for the review and update of Board policies through a recurring and annual review cycle starting with Section B: School Board Governance and Operations in relation to current practices in the public sector.
  • That the Board continue to receive and update processes for reporting and evaluating progress with respect to Board priorities and initiatives through quarterly reports.
  • That the Board consider developing a process for Board/trustee self-evaluation.
  • That the Board further develop the processes for the professional growth planning and the performance review of senior staff.

This motion was withdrawn by the mover, Trustee Bacchus: That the Board request staff to prepare a revised set of proposals utilizing the board-approved level-one criteria, specifically based on in-catchment-only enrollment and projections.

This motion was rescinded: That the Board direct the Chairperson to write a letter to the City of Vancouver Mayor to ask city staff to do an analysis of the neighborhood plans and population projections in regard to the “VBE Administrative Report – Schools Considered for Potential Closure, September 26.”  I put forward the rescind motion out of respect for city staff because the VSB had suspended its closure process.

The VSB 2016-2021 Strategic Plan and the Board Priorities 2016/17 were approved.

Strategic Plan:
Board Priorities 2016/17:

The revised disposal of land regulation was approved, which added a reference to the VSB motion:  That the VBE commit to not sell school lands but maintain or increase our current number of school sites to preserve neighbourhood sites for current and future educational and community use.  This would not preclude land swaps or the sale of a portions of school sites provided that educational programs could still be offered.

The Lease/License to Occupy Selection Criteria Policy and Regulation was approved, which includes that property shall not be leased or licensed for an operation of an Independent School, except for agreements in place before July 1, 2016.

This motion was approved: That the Board request the Ministry of Education to make an amendment to the Memorandum of Understanding to remove reference to the 95% capacity utilization goal.

As was this motion: That the Board of Education direct staff to explore working with interested external organizations 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 and at minimal staffing cost to the district.

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/board-committees


Life as a VSB trustee – Vancouver Sun Op Ed – Oct 6

What is life like as a Vancouver School Board (VSB) trustee? I usually enjoy working to make education better for our students but both my first week as a trustee and this most recent week have been very challenging.

In November 2014 nine VSB trustees were elected, four Vision and four NPA with myself as the lone Green. With this 4-4-1 board if Vision and NPA disagree my vote will be the decider and this happened with my very first vote, voting for the Board Chair. Patti Bacchus had been Chair for six years under two Vision majority boards but I voted for the NPA’s nominee, Christopher Richardson, because Vision no longer had a majority and I wanted to reflect voters’ desire for change. The social media backlash was immediate and it was clear that it would be difficult to set aside partisan differences to work collaboratively as a board.

Moving forward to this week and in the midst of considering school closures the entire VSB senior management team is on medical leave. I value and respect every member of our senior management team and hope that their leaves resolve well. I am disappointed in myself as I am the Vice Chair and despite holding this leadership position our district has come to this outcome.

At our last board meeting our Acting Superintendent recommended that the school closure process be suspended. Despite the board’s unanimous approval to move forward with closure consultations for 11 schools I voted to suspend the process as without our senior management team the VSB does not have the capability to carry out these meetings in any meaningful way. I realize this decision will impact next year’s budget as our available funding is spread ever more thinly across the district and that it may also impact our ability to provide temporary accommodation to move forward our seismic program as soon as possible. However, the well-being of our staff cannot be put at risk by unrealistic expectations. I disagree with our Vision Chair Mike Lombardi’s position that the Minister’s removal of the 95% capacity utilization requirement will fundamentally change our Long Range Facility Plan and school closure process. The Minister’s announcement still requires a solid case for funding seismic upgrades and that there be the right number of schools for the actual number of students, which to me are essentially the same parameters.

In the near future the Special Advisor will submit his report to the Minister and WorkSafeBC will investigate allegations in a letter from the BC School Superintendents Association that the VSB work environment creates a toxicity which fosters fear and a lack of a sense of safety for those lead educators as the expectations requested of them are unmanageable.

I usually downplay party political affiliations when I write about being a trustee but I have learned they are always present and I acknowledge that reality here. I work hard to make evidence based decisions that focus on the best interests of our students but I cannot get away from the fact that VSB decisions play out in a partisan political arena, at both the municipal and provincial levels. I do not align with any other political party, I do not vote for or against any party, rather I vote for our students and their public education. I am finding it more and more difficult to work collaboratively with my fellow trustees when I know that our work will always be viewed through a political rather than an educational lens.

Trustees have the responsibility to support the success of every student in our district and right now we must focus on these nearly 50,000 students to ensure their education is not affected by the dysfunction at the board level.