With files from Emily Lazatin
The vote is in, and the Vancouver School Board has defeated a controversial budget, complete with $24-million in cuts to programs and teaching positions.
The key vote came with Green Trustee Janet Fraser, who tipped the balance on the nine-seat board, which was otherwise split down party lines. All four Vision Trustees had previously committed to voting it down.
Fraser acknowledged the choice could have consequences when dealing with the province.
“There are consequences for us if we have an appointed Trustee, and consequences for us as Trustees, giving up our responsibility to make decisions in this district. But to weigh that against trying to get to the heart of the matter, which is trying to have good public education in BC, I felt there was more weight on that side, so to not pass a balanced budget I felt was the right decision.”
“Really, it was my vote that swung the decisions. So have I made the right decision? I am going to think about that for the next two and a half years.”
Vision trustee Patti Bacchus says she’s pleased with the outcome.
“It would’ve been great to have a unanimous vote but we got a majority vote and that’s really what counts.”
Bacchus says trustees refused to be bullied by the province.
“I think it would be a real risk for this government to fire a board based on not liking this decision when we know we have very strong support from the public.”
On the other side of the aisle, the NPA says it’s disappointed with the result of the vote. The party issued a statement warning the board’s move could see it lose control of the situation.
“By failing to pass a balanced budget, the Minister of Education could potentially dismiss the Board and appoint an Official Trustee to conduct the affairs of the district.”
Trustees jobs on the line
Tonight’s move is in itself controversial. The School Act requires school boards to submit balanced budgets, giving the province the power to fire trustees if they fail to do so.
Vision Chair Mike Lombardi had previously warned he was ready to lose his job over the cuts. With tonight’s vote, the board has now thrown the gauntlet down, and all eyes will turn to Education minister Mike Bernier for a response.
Bernier is not required to fire the board, and may elect to bring in a special adviser to try and solve the budget impasse.
Following the vote, the Minister released a statement saying he is “disappointed” in the vote, but that Trustees still have until June 30 to turn in a balanced budget.
Bernier also took a swipe at the district for resisting school closures under declining enrollment.
“Right now there is $37 million a year in Vancouver that should be going to essential classroom services that past boards have instead chosen to invest in heating and maintaining empty spaces in classrooms. Today’s failure continues this sad trend in Vancouver.
He says the city’s schools are getting 20% more cash than in 2001, despite losing more than 6,000 students.
Meanwhile as the decision came down parents, teachers, and staff stood and applause the rejected budget.
Bree Cropper has two young kids who attend Lord Beaconsfield in East Vancouver, she’s pleased with the outcome.
“My school was about to lose its literacy teacher, band and springs, live resources, as well as the home-schooling program was going to be essentially cut in half.”
Jane Bouey, another parent and LGBTQ community activist says she was surprised trustees voted to keep the anti-homophobia role.
Bouey says it’s an essential role to keep students safe.
“I was actually moved to tears that it was a unanimous vote to save that position, I was on that board and pushed hard to create that position.”
Ramona Orr is a theatre and drama teacher and says music is important for children.
“I’m kind of in shock with the budget and what has happened, that the budget is getting rejects. It’s going to be interesting what the Minister of Education says.”
Trustees also voted in full support for staff to keep the bands and strings program at elementary schools through a user fee. Staff will look at the feasibility of that option.
There were hints early in the evening that the budget would go down in defeat.
Early amendments from Vision Trustee Allan Wong, asking staff to look at retaining the elementary band and strings program through a user fee, and Green Trustee Janet Fraser, asking to keep the anti-homophobia role in schools both received full support.
Both of those programs had been potentially on the chopping block, along with cuts to gifted programs and literacy support.
The prospect of larger classes was also rejected – the budget had called for cuts to teachers, secondary non-enrollment teachers, and teacher librarians.
CKNW’s Emily Lazatin was live at the meeting, follow her coverage below