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VSB chair Patti Bacchus calls on parents to ask MLAs for more money for Vancouver schools

I write as the Vancouver School Board embarks on its annual budget process. As you may be aware, we have a world-class public education system and its is a system worth supporting and strengthening as we know there is no better investment in tomorrow than meeting the educational needs of all students today.

It’s never easy to set the budget for one of the most diverse and complex public school systems in Canada. The task this time is particularly difficult given the size of the funding shortfall coming from the provincial Ministry of Education.

The VSB must address a severe funding shortfall of $18.12 million for 2010/2011. Without money to cover this shortfall, we must either sell off assets, find ways to increase revenue or reduce spending, as the Board is legally required to balance its budget.

Based on the preliminary operating grants announced by the province on March 15th, the VSB will receive $447.8 million for 2010/2011. The small increase is intended to fund only a partial implementation of full-day Kindergarten and cover increases from provincially negotiated collective agreements. 

However, the current provincial funding formula does not provide for the following annual cost increases faced by school districts:
    •    salary increments for employees such as teachers, administrators and other professionals;
    •    increases in employee benefit costs such as CPP, EI, WCB, MSP, extended health and dental benefits, and employee pension plans; and
    •    Inflation on goods, services and a provincially approved hike in utilities such as hydro and natural gas.

I cannot overstate how difficult it will be to make up this $18.12 million dollar funding shortfall. The VSB has already made $51 million in accumulated annual spending reductions in the past eight years, and further reductions will make it increasingly difficult to meet the needs of all students.

As trustees, it is important that we hear from all our stakeholders – parents, students, employees and the general public – about what is essential to maintaining a quality public education system. I invite everyone to participate in our budget process in order to prioritize expenditures and provide feedback on proposed reductions. The VSB will be presented the final budget for approval on April 29th.  

The options before the board in light of this provincial funding shortfall includes: changes to the school calendar to close schools an additional 10 days per year; cuts to instructional staff and administration, including school librarians, ESL support, special education support, vice principals and supervision aides; cuts or cancellations of programs; reductions in learning resource budgets; increased deferral of school maintenance; land asset sales, and school closures.

Please visit our website at www.vsb.bc.ca for more details on our budget process and dates of public meetings. If you are a parent with children in the Vancouver school system you will also be represented through the school’s Parent Advisory Councils and the District Parents’ Advisory Council (DPAC). I encourage you to participate in your school’s PAC to assist in providing collective advice to trustees.

While we work to balance our budget, it’s important that our provincial leaders understand the difficult decisions we face due to the provincial funding formula that increases our costs without providing funds to pay for it. It’s simple math, you don’t receive a raise of 3 percent if that same increase is then clawed back with a 6 percent hike in your costs, the real effect is a reduction not a raise. As trustees, we continue to advocate for a restoration of public education funding and we invite you to join us in our advocacy efforts. To learn what we are doing and how you can help, please visit our website and click on Trustees’ advocacy work.

Your support and participation is appreciated as we work through this difficult process. We’ve recently witnessed the outstanding results that came from investing in excellence during the Winter Olympic Games. We need your help by speaking up and letting your provincial MLA know that you support public education. It’s time to invest in our students by fully funding the costs of meeting their educational needs.

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