News / Vancouver

New school year start of fixing Vancouver School Board: Minister

More teachers and return of elected school board could mark the start of a turnaround at the Vancouver School Board, Rob Fleming says.

Scenes like this, of parents of Vancouver schools lobbying the B.C. government to keep schools open, have been common amid the Vancouver School Board's challenges in recent years.

Matt Kieltyka/Metro News / Metro Web Upload

Scenes like this, of parents of Vancouver schools lobbying the B.C. government to keep schools open, have been common amid the Vancouver School Board's challenges in recent years.

Vancouver still has an uphill struggle but British Columbia’s new education minister hopes the new school year marks the start of a turnaround for its school board.

The 2017/18 sees the province scrambling to hire 3,500 new teachers throughout B.C. in order to comply with a B.C. Supreme Court judgment of class size the composition.

In Vancouver, that translates to 280 part and full time teaching jobs.

And while that will address some of the Vancouver School Board’s challenges in providing classroom resources, it only fixes part of the district’s problems.

Years of underfunding, lack of seismic upgrades and dwindling enrollment resulted in a long-standing battle between the VSB and the previous B.C. Liberal government.

That culminated last year in the firing of the entire VSB board when, faced with the prospect of closing schools, it was unable or unwilling to pass a balanced budget.

NDP Education Minister Rob Fleming has called an Oct. 14 byelection to bring back an elected school board and has asked the current appointed trustee, Dianne Turner, to stay on as a special adviser going forward to provide “fiscal stability”.

“Vancouver has concerns that are unique to it,” Fleming acknowledged. “It’s incredibly important, I think, for Vancouver to make decisions for itself and in order to be accountable we need a democratically-elected board. There’s no question about that. I think the combination of having an elected, legitimate school board restored and retaining the expertise of Dianne Turner is something that’s going to help Vancouver with its long-term plan.”

Fleming said the province’s capital plan for schools – which includes seismic upgrades in Vancouver and new schools elsewhere – will be revealed in its budget update later this month.

“Obviously with the age of [VSB’s] building stock and the previous government’s record of years of broken promises on seismic investment, that’s something I’m working with the trustee at VSB on, along with the other school construction that’s needed in the district,” he said.

“I think this is good news what’s going to happen in the coming school year, which we’re going to build on in subsequent years. Having back specialist teachers, for example librarians, as a feature in the school system in Vancouver is something we’ve been hearing from parents and educators about for years.

“Quite frankly, we look forward to building a relationship with the new school board, whoever the people of Vancouver in their wisdom decide to elect, to get some of the things done that parents and residents expect.”

While Vancouver struggles with dropping enrollment and the threat of school closures, the provincial government has the opposite challenge in neighbouring Surrey.

Fleming says it can’t build schools fast enough to keep up with growth and overcrowding.

“I was just in Surrey having a tour of the facilities … to get an even greater appreciation for the scale of construction that needs to happen there,” he said. “It’s a reminder, quite frankly, why overcrowding classrooms are such a concern for Surrey residents. I understand what it’s like to send a child to elementary school built for 500 kids that has upwards of 800 kids in it. I saw a school that had 14 portables in the yard there. That is not acceptable.”

Fleming said the province’s fastest growing district is expected to grow by approximately 1,000 students each school year for the foreseeable future.

Figuring out how to speed up construction of schools is a key priority of the government, he said.

“One of the goals of this government, and it’s in my mandate letter given to me by Premier John Horgan, is to come up with ways to build more schools, more quickly in British Columbia,” Fleming said. “It shouldn’t take four or five years to build a school when we get it approved at the ministry. We’re working with city government, with school boards, with all of the partners on how we can each come to the table with ideas that will help schools get built more quickly.”

The first details of that will come in the new NDP government’s budget update this month, he said.

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