B.C. budget means more Vancouver School Board cuts

Disappointing is how both NPA Vancouver School Board chairperson Christopher Richardson and B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker described the provincial government’s 2015 budget, which was announced Feb. 17.

Richardson said Wednesday morning he was speaking for himself, not on behalf of the school board, which hasn’t had time to agree upon a formal response to the budget.

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Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced $564 million in additional money for the kindergarten to Grade 12 system over three years to meet its funding commitments for collective agreements.

But Richardson and Iker noted school districts province-wide were also told together they would have to save $29 million in administrative costs for the 2015-2016 school year and $25 million in 2016-2017.

Richardson said that means the VSB will need to save an additional estimated $2.9 million, on top of the projected $15 million shortfall.

“As our superintendent has said, it will be tough to balance our budget this year as it was last year, and certainly another $2.9 million of unexpected cuts is not helpful,” he said.

Richardson said the board has heard a freeze on salaries for vice principals and principals could be making it difficult to attract administrators, but he didn’t believe this was addressed in the budget. He’s also heard the wage gap between teachers and administrators is shrinking and some starting principals could earn less than teachers who are high on the pay scale.

Richardson and Green Party trustee Janet Fraser, who’s the VSB’s vice-chair and finance committee chair, attended the budget announcement in Victoria at the invitation of Andrew Wilkinson, Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena.

Richardson said they talked to MLAs and met Ministry of Education staff, who he expects they’ll be talking to more as the board’s budget process ramps up.

Iker said the budget doesn’t cover inflation for school districts or downloaded costs that include increasing Medical Service Plan premiums and the new MyEducationBC computer program.

“For the second year in a row, the government’s own standing committee on finance recommended that government needs to put more money into K to 12 and, in particular, at the minimum, cover the cost of inflation and other downloaded costs and deal with the issues of students with special needs,” Iker said. “[It’s] a committee of both NDP and Liberal MLAs and the government seems more [interested in] trying to build up surpluses rather than dealing with supports for students, health services… and they gave that tax break to the wealthiest people in British Columbia.”

A battle between the BCTF and government regarding class size and composition remains before the courts, so any financial impacts of a ruling are unknown.

De Jong said the last three years of delivering balanced budget means the government can make modest, strategic investments that maintain public services in healthcare and education while strengthening and encouraging growth in key economic sectors. The budget forecasts a surplus of $879 million in 2014-2015, with smaller surpluses forecast until 2018.

All call to the Ministry of Education was not returned by the time this story was posted.

crossi@vancourier.com

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