With files from Emily Lazatin
The Vancouver School Board has rejected a last minute proposal by the Ministry of Education to avoid a budget showdown.
The VSB currently has a $21.8-million shortfall and is required by law to balance the books by tomorrow or face potential dismissal.
Trustees say the proposal, which involved selling off the Kingsgate Mall, offered no new funding from the province.
In April, the board voted down a budget containing $24-million in cuts.
Despite that, the Superintendent of Schools has gone ahead implementing an interim budget that moves ahead with many measures trustees rejected.
Kingsgate Mall proposal
Education minister Mike Bernier issued a statement late this evening expressing his disappointment.
The proposal offered to trustees involved the province green-lighting the sale of the Kingsgate Mall, with the money to be re-directed to the VSB.
“Our offer was a simple one – we gave them the go-ahead to sell Kingsgate Mall and put the proceeds back into education services. We backed that up with a guarantee of almost $6 million in exchange for a small ownership share in the mall if the sale does not happen in the next school year.”
Bernier says the proposal would have given the board time and resources to avoid cuts.
“I am disappointed that the Vancouver School Board has put their desire to own a mall ahead of services for students.”
READ MORE: Could Kingsgate Mall go up for sale?
But VSB Chair Mike Lombardi says the province’s pitch was rejected because while it would have provided cash up front, it would have only covered a fraction of the shortfall, while punching a deeper hole in the following year’s budget.
“[They offered] $5.59 Million dollars from our capital proceeds to be used for our operating funds, so there’s no new money there, it does not deal with any of our problems, in fact in compounds our problems for next year. It would make our shortfall $5 million dollars more next year.”
That’s because the money, taken from the capital fund, would have to be paid back in 2017/2018.
Vision Trustee Patti Bacchus agreed.
“From my perspective to suggest that we start selling off capital assets to fund operating is a very short sighted approach. We simply just can’t do that.”
Kingsgate Mall, located in Mount Pleasant at Broadway and Kingsway, sits on VSB property, and which is leased long-term to the Beedie Development group. That lease is up for renewal next year, which has sparked questions about its potential sale.
The land is valued at about $80 million, but legally the board is required to keep any money raised from its sale for future capital projects. Today’s proposal from the province appears to be an offer to partially waive that rule. The VSB collects about $750,000 a year in rent from the mall.
Back in May, the VSB held public consultations on the future of the four decade old facility.
The clock is now ticking on the Board, which is required by the School Act to pass a balanced budget by June 30th.
With barely more than 24 hours until their deadline expires, Lombardi says – so far – there’s no plan to reopen the budget.
“There are no other meetings of the Vancouver School Board scheduled for the rest of the school year,” he says, though adds he could call one at any time.
As to last minute midnight negotiations with the Minister?
“I’m open to taking calls from the Minister at any time, and we have had late night and early morning conversations, and we do have a good relationship.”
If the board fails to pass a budget by tomorrow, trustees could be sacked and replaced with a government appointed trustee, or have a special adviser appointed to work with them.
The Education Minister is expected to make an announcement tomorrow morning regarding the dispute.