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The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
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Columbia Journal logoVolume Nine, Number Two    April 2004    www.columbiajournal.ca

    Liberal-Style Budget Threatens Education, Kids, Says Board

    Marco Procaccini

    After months of community consultation, and sparring with the BC Liberal government, the Vancouver School Board is finally caving to the $11 million fiscal shortfall and downsizing services and jobs.

    In the revised budget proposals tabled on March 31, the board took $2.4 million from its local capital reserve fund to alleviate negative impacts of the over $40 million in funding cuts from the BC Liberal government to the VSB since it took power in 2001.

    The board has also cut back on several counseling programs and English As A Second Language training courses, which is expected to cost about 100 jobs, including up to 40 teaching positions, by September.

    School trustee Adrienne Montani says these sacrifices were made to help save as much as possible the programs and services already hit by provincial funding cuts.

    “The board dedicated $1.4 million to fund learning resources and restore more than 18 full time school-based teachers providing support to Vancouver's most vulnerable students, and $1 million to support the Inner City program which experienced a 35 per cent cut from the Ministry for Children and Family Development,” she said. “BC Liberal cuts still jeopardize Vancouver children's future, taking away extra academic support, counseling services to students and families, the hot lunch program, and other programs provided to inner city children.”

    She adds that the board tried repeatedly to meet with both BC Liberal Ministers of Education,
    Christy Clark and now Tom Christensen to discuss alternatives to the cuts, but were stonewalled.

    Fellow trustee Noel Herron says the board will likely approve a budget reflecting these cuts, but will do so under protest. “This is a very grueling experience for us,” he said. “We went over these cuts over and over again to try to minimize the damage. We worked with parents teachers and support staff unions to figure out how to address this.”

    The board held consultative sessions with education workers and the larger community for several months before tabling a draft budget, he said, adding it heard directly from more than 2,000 parents, teachers, principals, support staff at meetings, and received approximately 100 written briefs, as well as hundreds of e-mails and phone calls.

    Christensen insists that provincial education cuts are not as severe as school boards across the province are claiming, and that overall funding is actually increasing this year. But he says boards have to plan their budgets within the funding parameters set down by the provincial government. “If they can’t do that within their funding limits, then they have to look at other ways of maintaining a balanced budget,” he said.

    Trustees said in the end they were forced to concede to the funding cuts, since school board are required by law to adopt “compliance budgets” that reflect the fiscal policies set down for them by the provincial government. Failure of board to comply can result in the province firing the elected trustees and appointing its own board.

    This happened in Vancouver in 1984, when the then Social Credit government fired the board for refusing to impose a series of austerity measures dictated by the province.

    However, the trustees have also adopted what they call an “alternative budget,” which calls for rescinding the provincial cuts and expanding public education services as part of an economic development plan.

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