VSB gets biggest piece of the BCTF court settlement fund

VSB's getting 16 per cent of BCTF's court-win funding with only 9.4 per cent of B.C. enrolment. That's great news for Vancouver students but will it be enough to restore all the previous cuts? 

Bonnefoy and Turner
The VSB's Acting Secretary Treasurer, Guy Bonnefoy (left), will be preparing a balanced budget proposal for the board's government-appointed trustee, Dianne Turner (right), to vote on April 26. Photo: Patti Bacchus

For the first time in nine years my stomach isn’t churning with that gnawing pre-budget anxiety that usually hits me this time of the year, right on schedule with my seasonal allergies.

An upside to being fired by the Education Minister for not approving the Vancouver School Board (VSB) budget on time last year is that I won’t have to cast a vote on any budget cuts this spring.

That means no sleepless nights, marathon meetings, overflowing email inbox, stacks of petitions and letters and heart-wrenching pleas from students and families. Although it may turn out that I wouldn't have had to this year.

It’s shaping up to be a very different and interesting budget process, thanks to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s (BCTF) landmark victory at the Supreme Court of Canada last November. And Vancouver appears to be the biggest winner of all.

Numbers released last week show the VSB, with 9.4 per cent of B.C.’s public school enrolment, will get 16 per cent of the $360-million “classroom enhancement fund” in place to cover the costs of restoring teachers’ contract language from 2002 — before the B.C. Liberal government illegally stripped the teachers’ contracts.

That’s a huge win for Vancouver, which is getting over $15 million more than Surrey, which has 19,591 more students than Vancouver and makes up 13 per cent of provincial enrolment.

Contract provisions varied among districts before they were stripped, and Vancouver’s teacher locals bargained strong class size and composition language while other districts didn’t have the same clauses.

I wrote about the VSB's old contract in November. That means Vancouver students may end up with better class size and composition numbers than other districts — good for them but not so good for the rest.

The VSB’s total is $57,600,485, which includes $54,215,740 for teachers and $3,384,764 for “overhead.” Surrey’s getting just over $42 million.

The VSB share is also much higher than VSB staff estimated it would cost to get back in compliance when they did an analysis in 2014.

That could mean they’ll be able to not only get back in compliance with the old contract language, but also restore some of the many other areas we had to cut in previous years to balance our underfunded budgets with their $3.4 million in “overhead allocation” from the enhancement fund.

This is the budget year I’ve been dreaming of for years and the irony isn’t lost on me that it’s the year we’re not at the board table as elected trustees. My own kids are out of school now and it’s too late for them to benefit, but it’s wonderful knowing others will.

I suspect trustees and parents in other districts might not be so happy that Vancouver’s getting such a large piece of the pie. They all went through cuts and need more funding too.

It also remains to be seen if the “overhead” funding will be enough to prevent more cuts due to other unfunded cost increases, like support staff salary increases and benefits, hydro rates and inflation on other supplies and services.

Over the eight years I served as an elected trustee, including six as chair, I struggled and stressed over difficult decisions about how to balance budgets with multi-million dollar shortfalls, as provincial funding never kept pace with cost increases to deliver the same services from year to year.

Each year it seemed it couldn’t get any worse — but then it did. It always did.


Shortfall graph2

This graph from the VSB's 2016/17 Fiscal Framework document shows the number and size of funding shortfalls since the B.C. Liberals have been in government. 

We cut everything from the number of days in the school year, to senior managers, building maintenance, heating, teachers, supplies, vice principals, youth and family workers, alternative programs and even sold off the furniture only to rent it back.

It was bleak serving as a school trustee with the B.C. Liberal government in power and its seemingly endless war on teachers and public education.

I’ve been thinking about those painful budgets and the sleepless nights I spent trying to figure out ways to reduce the cuts or find ways to bring in more revenue or convince the government that B.C. kids deserve better than the second-lowest per-student funding in Canada.

I’d worry about dedicated professionals losing their jobs and what would happen to students whose programs were being cut. I’d wonder why I ever ran for the school board: I’d run to make things better for kids — not to do government’s dirty work by making more cuts.

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