Yesterday I voted against approving the proposed VSB balanced budget that required $24 million in cuts. I did this not because I thought I could stop the cuts but because I hope a “no” vote will lead to better provincial funding for public education and so a better future for our Vancouver students.
I anticipate that in rejecting a balanced budget the Minister of Education will dismiss our board and appoint an official trustee who will pass a balanced budget with $24 million in cuts. I also realise that the official trustee could be in place for up to two and a half years until the next municipal election, with the power to set policy, close schools and sell land. As a locally elected trustee it was very difficult to contemplate relinquishing my responsibility to make decisions about our students’ education.
However in voting “no” I wanted to highlight the underfunding of public education faced by Vancouver as well as every school district in BC. The provincial government decides how much money to spend on education and sets many rules about how it must be spent. Although the amount of education money may be increasing each year it does not keep up with the money required to even provide the same services as in the last year due to inflation, increased Hydro costs, downloaded salary and benefits increases and other costs. My hope is that public education becomes the top priority in the coming provincial election as people across BC recognise that educating our students well is the best investment we can make for our province.
While it is the provincial government’s responsibility to provide adequate, stable and predictable funding to public education, every school district must also manage their finances well. This year the VSB faced $24 million in cuts; $3 million due to provincially downloaded costs, $3 million due to declining enrollment and $18 million due to the consequences of short-term decisions made by previous Vision majority boards. DeleteBy refusing to close any schools despite declining enrollment we have many school buildings but our programs and services are cut beyond the bone. The current board is developing a long range facilities plan, to be finalised by June, to achieve the goal of safe and sustainable schools.
As with all my decisions as a trustee, this budget vote was not a vote with Vision or a vote against the NPA. I respect that every trustee voted for what they believed to be best for our students. I made this difficult decision, the most difficult I have made as a trustee, based on what I thought was best for our Vancouver students. My vote is a statement that our public education system needs more provincial funding.