News / Vancouver

For public education in Vancouver, budgeting is a death by a thousand cuts

Last week, the Vancouver School Board’s senior management team delivered their initial proposal to address an estimated $8.52 million budget shortfall. The proposal is a diligent but sad exercise in death by a thousand cuts. It will see our schools fall further into disrepair, close doors on the city’s most vulnerable, and leave everyone in the system feeling more frustrated.

School boards across the province find themselves equally hooped. The province determines funding levels and though boards will see increased staff wages, higher BC Hydro and MSP costs, and increases courtesy of the feds for Employment Insurance and Canada Pension payments, the province won’t set funding levels to compensate.

Both Vancouver School Board and Education Minister Peter Fassbender have hired external advisors to look for further opportunities for savings, but unless one of the special advisors turns out to be Elastigirl from The Incredibles, or Inspector Gadget himself, making these ends meet is going to really hurt.

The management team’s proposal includes shaving down elementary school band and strings programs and boosting fees for the programs that stay. The fee increases are minimal, going from $2.50 to $5 per month, so this won’t deter most families. But for families living on minimum wage jobs or income assistance, it will hurt. The increased fees will only result in an additional $45,000 in revenue, a tiny drop in the shortfall bucket.

The report points out that every year, it is becoming harder to stretch the budget. Last budget, maintenance levels had to be cut, and those levels will have to continue. According to the report, “funding levels are presently significantly less than those required to prevent our schools from deteriorating further on an annual basis.” Insufficient staffing will save over $500,000, which is great, if you don’t mind schools that are sliding into such decrepitude that parents have started a blog, called FixBCEd, to document disrepair.

Adult education centres will take a huge hit, with the Downtown Eastside and Hastings centres, closing completely. These inner city locations service Vancouver’s urban aboriginal community, which already suffers lower graduation rates. But the cut dollars are big, another $500,000 in savings.

What remains of VSB’s Adult Ed programs will see an increase in the ratio of students to staff, which will cut millions. The International Education program will also see increased students per staff person.

I don’t blame the school board for these harsh cuts. I blame the provincial government for their inadequate funding and lack of care for public education.

A new coalition of parent organizations calling themselves FACE (Families Against Cuts to Education), is planning a rally for noon on Sunday, April 12th outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. Go, take your kids. Let the province hear you yell.

Trish Kelly lives and hollers in East Vancouver. Follow her @trishkellyc.

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