Vancouver School Board management recommends axing Continuing Ed

Longtime continuing education instructor James Neufeld is trying to save the Vancouver School Boards 106-year-old program from elimination.

I help a lot of people. People can pretty much start their own business after taking my classes, said the instructor of more than 20 years who teaches web design and Photoshop.

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Neufeld said one of his students compared similar courses offered by other institutions and told him his VSB classes were more in-depth and cheaper.

For the second year in a row, senior board management has recommended eliminating continuing education to help balance its budget. The program would end as of Aug. 30.

Neufeld has created a Facebook group called Save the VSB continuing education in response. Eighty-three people had joined as of Monday afternoon. Most are students, Neufeld said.

Im just trying to gather all the students together and as many teachers as I can together so that we can formulate ways to improve CE and also make it known to the trustees that there is huge support for this, he said.

Neufeld said advocates for continuing education should email board trustees.

The districts preliminary budget report notes the program continues to operate at a deficit and is not part of the districts core services of a K-12 educational system.

District staff report other organizations are interested in offering VSB continuing education courses and potentially renting school space. Staff estimate eliminating the program would save the district $615,000 annually, if it includes $150,000 in rental income, but due to transition costs the district would save $399,000 in 2013/14.

The school board revamped its continuing education website and flyer last year and hired consultants to publicize its courses. The district increased fees and dropped courses with low enrolment.

Continuing education saw a deficit of $470,892 in 2008/09, $256,234 in 2009/10, $219,765 in 2010/2011 and $366,505 for last year. The projected deficit for 2012/13 is $196,155.

Continuing education adult English as a second language teacher Sonia Sara said the program continues to lack a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and the print flyer should be more widely distributed. She believes high school students in arts and business should be assigned projects to help boost its classes.

Kurt Heinrich, VSB public relations manager, said continuing education lacks the resources to manage a Twitter account.

Both continuing education instructors and Vision Vancouver trustee Mike Lombardi believe more time is needed to revitalize the program.

Neufeld says continuing education made money for the district in the 1980s through to the early 2000s, but a rainy day fund was never put into place.

Sara recalls lineups around the block for ESL courses, but those ended when the Ministry of Education stopped giving money to districts that offered ESL.

Continuing education program coordinator Andy Gauthier confirmed the more than $100,000 continuing education received from the province for ESL courses did much to boost continuing education prior to 2001.

School board chair Patti Bacchus said shes heard the most concern about the cancellation of ESL courses. An ESL teacher at a finance meeting Monday night told her killing the program would create a gap in ESL offerings.

Neufeld believes management should look elsewhere for cuts.

Were a small drop in the bucket in terms of the whole budget for the Vancouver School Board, he said.

The Vancouver School Board is facing a funding shortfall of $7.91 million and is required to submit a balanced budget to the province. Public input on the revised budget will be sought April 24. The board will make its final decisions on the budget April 29.

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