Tag Archives: education funding

Vancouver faces stark contrasts between funding for K to 12 and university

Vancouver faces stark contrasts between funding for K to 12 and university
Vancouver Observer
October 7, 2016

Vancouver, the city of disparities, is faced with polar opposites in its educational system.

The contrast between K-12 schools and the university in Vancouver could not be more stark: The schools sinking in debt with rapidly declining enrolments and empty seats versus the university swimming in cash and bloating quotas to force excessive enrolments beyond capacity.

With central offices just 7km or 12 minutes apart, the two operate as if in different hemispheres or eras: the schools laying off teachers and planning to close buildings versus the university given a quota for preparing about 650 teachers for a glutted market with few to no jobs on the remote horizon in the largest city of the province.

There is a gateway from grade 12 in high school to grade 13 in the university but from a finance perspective there appears an unbreachable wall between village and castle.

Pundits and researchers are nonetheless mistaken in believing that the Vancouver schools’ current $22m shortfall is disconnected from the university’s $36m real estate windfall this past year.

The schools are begging for funds from the Liberals, who, after saying no to K-12, turn around to say yes to grades 13-24 and pour money into the University of British Columbia, no questions asked.

There may be two ministries in government, Education and Advanced Education; there is but one tax-funded bank account.

At first glance, the cheques suggest parity across the Vancouver system. For 2016-17, the schools, with about 49,000 students get a base operating grant of $436m and the university, with about 42,000 students gets a base of $420m. So what’s the problem?

One is left to birth and migration rates while the other is manipulated with enrolment quotas. For each decrease of enrolment in the Vancouver schools the University ironically matches with an increase of teachers for the job market.

UBC’s Faculty of Education, which could be financially assisting the schools to meet this historic shortfall, is instead bloated with a $2.6m deficit partially to maintain a quota for a steady flood of new teachers into Vancouver.

With the building boom at UBC, in March the Faculty of Education occupied a floor and a half of the new Ponderosa Commons building, despite about two floors of unoccupied or underutilized space in its Scarfe building. Education’s share of the $57m building is $18m.

At the same time 21 Vancouver schools were scheduled for closure or demolition to meet a shortfall the government gave a $19.5m windfall to renovate UBC’s Life Sciences building.

Wheeling and dealing, the Liberal government is robbing Peter to pay Paul, demoralizing Petra to pump up Paulette.

UBC appears to be throwing money around like it grows on Endowment Land trees. With the Vancouver real estate boom, it does.

The short history of UBC at 100 years is that it was born spoiled with a sizeable estate in 1915-1916 and remains spoiled in 2016-2017.

Through the stroke of a pen in 1858, Queen Victoria created the colony of British Columbia and transformed First Nations traditional territory into Crown Land. In 1907, an amendment to the BC Land Act granted 3,000 acres (5 sq. miles) to a University Endowment.

UBC property sits precariously on unceded Musqueam territory aggressively developed by settlers into prime Vancouver real estate over the past century and most aggressively since 1988 when the UBC Real Estate Corporation (Properties Trust) was established. In 1994 UBC converted 200 acres of its campus and Endowment Lands into condo and shopping centre development.

By 2003, as University Hill Secondary school was crammed and the urban plan expanded, so flush with cash was the university that its Properties Trust offered to bankroll renovations to its National Research Council (NRC) building and charge the busted VSB a monthly lease. In 2008, the Liberals stepped in, effectively saving the university from a $37.9m renovation.

The Vancouver Schools have had to defer $700m of building maintenance costs while UBC has announced plans for an $822 million building boom on it campus, with generous commitments from the Ministry.

As in real estate goes demographics: from boom to bust, the empty seats in Vancouver schools will inevitably be empty seats in the university. Like the VSB, it won’t be long before UBC begins to schedule the closure or demolition of empty academic buildings, that is, if someone opens the doors to realize there’s no one inside.

With more and more faculty members preferring to work at home, save for staff, empty offices are making hollow buildings the norm.

The Ministry is now threatening to fire the School Board for suspending school closure and demolition plans but when the University Board colludes to hide decisions from access and scrutiny the Ministry looks the other way.

Vancouver is now desperate to resolve the deepest school finance crisis and worst university administrative legitimacy crisis in 100 years. False distinctions between the two or the success of one at the expense of the other are at the root of the crises.

It’s the story of Vancouver: Broke and barely making it versus fixed, rich, and laughing all the way to the bank: 99% versus 1%.

Stephen Petrina and E. Wayne Ross are professors in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

BC Teachers’ Strike: Analyzing the government’s bargaining strategy & its “affordability” trope

Published in Rabble.ca on Friday, September 12, 2014 as:

B.C. schools could be open Monday, if the government wanted

Public schools in British Columbia could be open Monday, if the government wanted.

On Wednesday, in nearly unanimous fashion, members of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation voted to walk from the picket lines into their classrooms, if the B.C. Liberal government would agree to binding arbitration on all issues, except the most contentious, class size and composition, which is currently before the courts.

Prior to the teachers’ vote government rejected the idea, twice. Education Minister Peter Fassbender called the teachers’ effort to get the schools open by going to binding arbitration, “absolutely silly” and “a ploy.”  The former advertising salesman who has been the face of a formidable government PR campaign seemed uncharacteristically perturbed.

In recent weeks, the government’s strategy has become increasingly transparent. Forcing teachers to choose between financial hardship, perhaps ruin, or protecting court victories over a government that stripped class size and composition language from their contract 12 years ago.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the provincial government infringed on teachers’ Charter rights when it stripped class size and composition language from their contract in 2002. Justice Susan Griffin gave the government a year to solve the problem.

In 2012, the legislature enacted new legislation that had same effect as the old and, in January 2012, Justice Griffin’s ruled in favor of the teachers again.

Former crown prosecutor Sandy Garossino told Global TV,

“Over and over and over again, [Justice Griffin] goes through a litany of examples of where the government really never intended to negotiate in good faith with the union at all. It’s very hard to get past that ruling, and it really does in my view cast a completely different view on the nature of the negotiations that are going on now. The credibility of the government is certainly in question.”

Government is appealing Justice Griffin’s decision and it is scheduled to be heard next month by the B.C. Court of Appeals.

Meantime, government wants to negotiate its way out of court losses by insisting teachers accept a contract clause, known as E80, which the union and legal experts say abrogates teachers’ court victories requiring government to restore class size and composition language to teachers’ contracts. E80 is a poison pill the union refuses to swallow.

Throughout negotiations government has argued that B.C. teachers’ demands are unaffordable. It would be more accurate to say that the B.C. Liberals have prioritized cutting taxes for the rich and corporations over providing adequate funding for public services such as education and child welfare.

The key factors in affordability are size of the economy and tax rates.

B.C. Liberals waltzed into the legislature in 2001 and started an unprecedented program of inequitable tax cuts. As a result, B.C. now has a regressive tax system. A Broadbent Institute report released this week points out that in the B.C. the poor are now paying more in all taxes as a percentage of income than the rich.

B.C. Liberals’ tax cuts over the past 10 years have benefited the richest 1 per cent of British Columbians to the tune of $41,000 per year, while the bottom 40 per cent have benefited by an average of $200 per year.

Both the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Conference Board of Canada agree that despite the elimination of the provincial deficit and the recently announced $353 million surplus, overall spending as a share of the provincial GDP is shrinking and will reach a record low in 2017.

In August, the Conference Board report “British Columbia Fiscal Snapshot: Back on Solid Groupnd” said the B.C. government will have to spend $1.6 billion more than it has budgeted on education to maintain a constant level of spending over the next three years.

With the B.C. near the bottom in provincial per student education funding and B.C. teachers near the bottom in average salary, government has budgeted 0.6 per cent increases for K-12 education the next three years. That’s not a typo.

While the provincial budget conservatively projects revenue increases at 8 percent annually, it has budgeted less than a one per cent annual increase in the budget for B.C. schools.

The current B.C. budget projects the economy to grow by almost 20 per cent over the next five years, before inflation. And the government estimates teachers’ demands for wages, class size and composition funding would add up to nearly 15 per cent over same period.

What Minister Fassbender really means when he says the province cannot afford teachers’ demands is that government has not budgeted enough to education to meet teachers’ demands.

The funding model for public education in B.C. reflects the ideological principle that more of the public’s collective wealth should be devoted to maximizing private profits rather than serving public needs.

The teachers have proven they’re serious about getting back to work. The B.C. Liberals remained intractable in their devotion to an ideology that is fundamentally anti-social.