“Good public education in BC… is the heart of the matter”
VANCOUVER, B.C. Thursday evening, April 28, 2016, Vancouver School Board (VSB) Trustee Janet Fraser (Green Party of Vancouver) cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 split decision against the adoption of a 2016/2017 budget proposal to balance the books in the face of an unprecedented $24 million shortfall in the VSB’s operating budget.
The proposed $24 million in cuts would have seen the school board do away with more than 200 jobs, with the largest effects being felt on special education, music and arts programs, teacher librarians and much more.
Earlier during the meeting, Fraser moved to amend the budget to reinstate the position of the Anti-Homophobia Coordinator, originally slated to be scrapped as a cost-cutting measure, citing the need for all students to feel safe at school in order to learn effectively. The motion was carried unanimously.
Fraser, who shared her struggles with the budget vote publicly in the lead-up to Thursday night’s meeting, called the vote “the most difficult decision I have faced as a Trustee”. As the lone Green trustee on the 9-trustee board with 4 Vision and 4 NPA trustees, all eyes were on Fraser as the likely deciding vote as the other parties staked opposing ground on the budget.
According to the School Act, the provincial government may choose to dismiss a school board that fails to submit a balanced budget, replacing the board with an appointed Official Trustee with the same powers as a regular school board. An official trustee may potentially remain in place until the next regular local election in November 2018.
“There are consequences for us if we have an appointed Trustee, and consequences for us as Trustees, giving up our responsibility to make decisions in this district,” said Fraser prior to the vote on the budget. “But to weigh that against trying to get to the heart of the matter, which is trying to have good public education in BC, I felt there was more weight on that side, so to not pass a balanced budget I felt was the right decision.”
As a further reason for not supporting the budget, Fraser cited the disproportionate impact that the proposed cuts would have on students in less affluent neighbourhoods and schools, particularly on Vancouver’s East Side, where parents and communities are least able to make up the difference.
While Fraser pointed out that previous Vision-majority school boards had a hand in creating the record budget shortfall by applying short-term, one-time financial fixes that exhausted the VSB’s room to maneuver, she targeted the BC Liberal provincial government as the biggest culprit.
“I cannot live with the level of cuts the Province is forcing us to make... I’ve heard too many people tell me how much these cuts will impact their lives; the only way to change this is to make this current Liberal government know [that their cuts to public education are] unconscionable. It has to become a provincial election issue,” said Fraser.
Fraser said that her decision was in large part influenced by the parents, students and teachers she had been listening to, who overwhelmingly wanted trustees to reject the $24 million cuts in protest against chronic provincial underfunding of public education. Many of these were present at the meeting held at Gladstone Elementary, and erupted into a standing ovation when the budget was defeated.
Janet has issued a full statement on yesterday’s vote which is available here: http://www.vangreens.ca/no_vsb_budget