Vancouver Continues Pairing Down the Budget

The combined committee III (Education and Planning) and committee V (Finance) met at the VSB offices last evening to hear delegations speak regarding the proposed ‘phase I’ cuts to the VSB operating budget (see November 12 entry for details). The necessity to cut the budget has arise as a result of a serious under estimate of Vancouver’s declining enrollment. Previously this fall the board cut 48 full-time equivalent teaching positions from the schools. What they are calling Phase I involves an additional 1.6 million dollars of cuts.So-called phase I cuts involves a combination of not filling currently vacant positions, reducing (by a small amount) school-based administration positions, cuts to the districts research agenda. Phase II cuts (to be considered in December 20060 would include an across the board cut to school supplies in the order of almost $700,000.00.

Superintendent Chris Kelly acknowledged the difficulty that the district has been facing given the so unanticipated decline in students. “It is important to acknowledge,” he said, that there is no assumption that this [proposal to cut] is a better educational solution, an improvement to education, it’s quite the opposite.” Noting the difficulty the superintendent stated that the reduction is not what they wanted. Rather, they have tried to “go about this in a reasonable, balanced way to face the negative consequences of the decline in student enrolment.

The phase I cuts that were most discussed by the delegations to the committee involved the reduction of school-based administration at Britannia Scondary and Sir Charles Tupper Secondary. The District Management Team (DMT) has recommend that based upon strict enrolment numbers these two secondary schools are ‘over staffed’ in terms of administration full-time equivalents. DMT was supported in principle in this contention by the Vancouver Secondary Teachers Association whose president, Bill Bargeman, and Tupper VSTA Union Rep, Bonnie Brunell, both commented that the VP’s were in fact taking away from realtime teaching blocks and therefore the reduction of administration would benefit students. Bill Bargeman qualified the unions comments by suggesting the choice of Tupper and Britannia were misplaced, but the overall concern with administration positions was of less impact then the proposed 10% across the board cut to the school supplies and discretionary budgets.

Britannia PAC Chair, L.K. Chieh and Vice-Chari Cynthia Wong, spoke passionately about their school, the diversity and the unique features of the school which would be put in jeopardy by the reeducation in school-based administration. Their commentary was followed by school teachers who also spoke to the importance of retaining the local vice principal in their school on a fulltime basis.

While the likely outcome of all of this will be the adoption of the phased in cuts the issue that has not been addressed in any public forum is the ongoing problem of management by crisis. We need to move to a longer term, more predictable funding structure so that we are able to operate the system with some degree of certainty and regularity.