One of the first school-related stories the Courier published in January 2012 highlighted a difficult problem the Vancouver School Board faces —the poor graduation rate of aboriginal students. The rate had improved slightly, but remained low.
The district reported the six-year completion rate for the Dogwood diploma for aboriginal students rose from 25.4 per cent in 2010 to 32.1 per cent in 2011, while non-aboriginal student completion rates moved up from 80.7 per cent to 82.5 per cent during the same period. The aboriginal students’ statistic is one of the reasons the board launched an aboriginal focus school at Macdonald elementary on East Hastings Street in September. Whether it helps improve the graduation rate for aboriginal registrants remains to be seen. Sixteen students are now enrolled.
The long-running labour dispute between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association was another story that remained in the headlines in 2012. The parties were far apart in contract talks, which started in 2011, and teachers were in the midst of a teach-only campaign. Education Minister George Abbott infuriated the BCTF by legislating a so-called cooling off period, appointing Charles Jago to mediate negotiations and asking him to prepare a report with non-binding recommendations if an agreement wasn’t reached by June 30. A tentative agreement was unexpectedly reached just before the summer holidays, which was ratified by both parties.
The agreement, reflecting the provincial government’s net-zero mandate, runs until June 30, 2013. Bargaining starts again in March, shortly before the May provincial election.
Meanwhile, Vancouver School Board’s money troubles continued in 2012.
The VSB hired Price Waterhouse Coopers, at a cost of $100,000, to review its finances and come up with suggestions to deal with its ongoing budget shortfalls. The company presented a report in March, which concluded the school district could save up to $16.3 million in the short term and $4 million in the long term by implementing various proposals.
The board passed its 2012/13 budget, which reflected a $4.6 million shortfall, in the spring. The budget offered few surprises but school closure days were cut from 10 to five.
The prospect of year-round schooling — a.k.a. a balanced calendar — was floated again this year. Management recommended a feasibility study for year-round school be conducted centering on the University Hill family of schools. The board opted for a “more cautious” approach, which doesn’t target a particular school or schools. Trustees asked senior staff for a general report on the feasibility of establishing a balanced calendar in the district for any and all schools, as well as a report on the process the board would need to follow should it wish to establish a balanced calendar. To be continued in 2013.
Trustees dealt with another tricky matter in 2012 — whether to approve the use of ultrasonic Mosquito devices, designed to combat loitering and vandalism by emitting high-pitched sounds that irritate young people. The devices had multiplied in the district without the board’s knowledge: 33 were installed at 19 sites.
When their numbers came to light, school district staff unplugged them pending a report and legal opinion. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association opposes Mosquito devices, arguing they unfairly target a specific age group and violate human rights, but a legal opinion dismissed those concerns and the VSB drew up a policy regulating how and when the units could be installed.