School Budget Season Opens with Projected Deficits and Cutting

Vancouver School District faces yet another potential deficit budget for the 2006-2007 school year. VSB district management projects a budget shortfall of between $3.22 and $10+ million in their presentation before the VSB’s standing committee on finances (Committee V). VSB Budget documents:
1. 2005/2006 Holdback Funds
2. 2005/2006 Amended Annual Operating Budget
3. Proposed 2006/2007 Budget Process/Timeline
4. Preliminary Projection 2006/2007 Base Budget

In every year the provincial treasury holds back a percentage of the total district budget. VSB has received its 2005-2006 hold back funds with an additional sum of $540,000. Due to the projected budget deficit for next year VSB senior management recommends not spending the money on children now. They would rather put the money aside to cover upcoming 2006/2007 costs. The projected budget deficit could have very serious impacts of students in the VSB next year. It remains to be seen how the new center-right NPA school board will respond. The previous center-left COPE board managed cuts and services withdraws over the previous three years by focusing all available funds to the front lines and directing service cuts to non-enrolling areas of the district budget.

The budget deficit figures are ‘worst case projections’ and assume that there won’t be another $1.99 million in 2006/2007 (the VSB hasn’t received written assurance yet from Shirley Bond, but all the other roundtable stakeholders have. If the $1.99 is funded for next year that would mean that the underfunding could be as low as $1.23 million).

The big column is “Potential Costs of Outstanding Issues” (ranging from $3.7 – $7.5 million!) These costs are mostly pension and benefits, and could be nailed down much more precisely (and should be before decisions are made). For example, estimates to harmonize salary grids vary from $2 to $4 million, which is not acceptable for effective planning.

The final numbers come down from on March 10, 2006. So until then we’re speculating. The majority of the board decided they will refer the issue of spending holdback funds to the next board meeting. Some of the NPA trustees were recommending that we wait until March 10th to decide whether to spend the holdback funds – which leaves it pretty late in the year for hiring supervision aides and other people that contribute to the learning environment of our children. Other NPA trustees thought we should just put the money in the bank for next year. The COPE trustees thought we should spend the money budgeted for this fiscal year in this fiscal year.

The first public budget hearing is Thursday March 9th at 7 pm (a day before we actually know how much we have to spend?!). The second set of public hearings is Monday April 10th and April 11th (if needed) at 7 pm. Stakeholder meetings will be conducted separately from parent consultation, which means we won’t get to hear each other’s concerns and perspectives.

Here’s what was budgeted in the holdback funds

$90,000 Secondary Enrollment Teacher Support
$216,000 Student Support Workers
$56,000 Supervision Aides
$190,000 Student Information System – Hardware

Prepared from report by Claudia Ferris (Van DPAC)

Online Petition to Keep BC’s Provincial School Completion Certificate!

Further to my (Dawn Steele’s) earlier note about the Ministry’s plans to stop issuing school completion certificates for students with special needs who meet their Individual Education Plan goals, an online petition has now been set up by Web-savvy mom Tamara Hurtado at:

Please take a moment to sign the petition and pass this along, urging relatives, friends and ordinary citizens to help us reverse the Ministry’s decision.

The attached position paper addresses a serious concern re the Ministry of Education’s new policy re graduation of students with special needs. Since the paper is rather long, the essense of the issue is summarized below:

Former Policy:
Students who successfully complete all of their graduation requirements receive a certificate (known as the Dogwood) from the Ministry of Education. For students whose curriculum is modified, and who complete all of the goals outlined in their Individual Education Plan, the Ministry issues a school completion certificate.

New Policy:
The Dogwood certificate will continue to be issued by the Ministry of Education for those students who successfully complete the graduation requirements. However, the Ministry will no longer issue a school completion certificate for those who follow modified curriculum and successfully complete all of the goals in their IEPs. Instead, the Ministry is leaving up to the districts to decide if they will issue a school completion certificate locally.

The Issue:
The message sent is that some kids’ efforts count and are “worthy” of recognition by the Ministry and others are not. The Ministry claims, in its policy documents, to “value the contributions of all students.” This policy change devalues those students efforts. The new policy also seems to fly in the face of the Ministry’s policies on inclusion by excluding these students from their credentialing process and leaving up to districts to decide if it is worth the paper to photo copy a certificate.

A further concern is the loss of accountability for these students, since the Ministry will no longer require that districts submit data regarding the graduation of such students to the Ministry.

Thanks to Cathie Camley of LDA – BC Tri Cities for bringing this to our attention. I urge parents, PACs, DPACs and other organizations that are offended by this mean-spirited attack on students with special needs to make their views known to the Ministry, MLAs and local media.

Dawn Steele

Download position paper