Education Minister Mike Bernier has announced that the Provincial Government will be sending in an audit team to conduct a “thorough review” of the board’s decision making.
This comes after the VSB rejected the Provincial Government’s proposal, which involved selling off the Kingsgate Mall.
The Board said it offered no new funding from the province.
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.”
He says the decision last night not to accept the government’s offer to sell Kingsgage Mall was surprising, since he says the suggestion came from VSB Chair Mike Lombardi himself.
Bernier says clearly that was just another game.
“It’s time for those games to end. Enough is enough. This is not about politics. This has to be about making good decisions and helping students in the Vancouver area.”
However, he says he will not be firing the board at this time.
Bernier has the authority to fire the entire board and replace it with an administrator if a balanced budget is not ready by the end of the day.
VSB chair Mike Lombardi says he welcomes the audit, saying the board manages their books well.
“We welcome any audit team in Vancouver as we always have. We’re very proud of the way we maintain our books.”
He says finding one-time savings to balance their budget would only add to their problems in future years.
“Our professional staff tell us that our projected shortfall for next year is $15-million, and if that $6-million is applied, next year we have a shortfall of $21-million. That would mean all the cuts we made this year would have to be made next year and more.”
Lombardi says the VSB gets $750-thousand dollars in annual revenue from their lease with Kingsgate Mall, which contributes to their operating budget.
He says he’s up for solutions, but says selling off Kingsgate Mall was never part of their plan.
After the board unanimously rejected Bernier’s last-minute proposal, Lombardi also doubled down on remarks he’s said for months.
“Re-invest in public education, providing the Vancouver School Board and other school boards with adequate, stable, and predictable funding, so we can maintain the public education system that we’ve got in Vancouver and the rest of the province.”
But the Opposition says says the province is unfairly singling out the Vancouver School District.
“Vancouver has to be the most audited school district in North America at this point.”
NDP Education Critic Rob Fleming says the province was able to find cash for schools in rural areas, but is hanging Vancouver out to dry.
“There was an ad-hoc funding announcement for rural education that was reluctantly made by Christy Clark after she was dragged kicking and screaming to help save schools like Osoyoos, but Vancouver parents are taxpayers too, and they face the same chronic underfunding.”
Flemming says its true that Vancouver has seen enrollment decline in recent years, but says that’s bottomed out and numbers are now climbing across the province, just when Victoria is squeezing schools.
History of audits
It’s the second time in two years the VSB has faced a province-ordered audit; last June, then-Education Minister Peter Fassbender had a 225-page review by Ernst and Young which found the board could find a one-time saving of $750-million dollars with the possible closure of up to 19 schools.
In March 2015 a provincially ordered audit of the VSB’s then projected 15 million dollar deficit, found the School Board could save hundreds of millions of dollars by closing up to 19 schools and selling the property.
In April of 2010, the government appointed a special advisor to review the finances of the Vancouver School Board with then Premier Gordon Campbell saying questions had been raised about high “administrative costs.”
And in 1999 a government audit looked into funding cuts for the ESL program, after the VSB held over a 5.9 million dollar deficit. That audit found the School Board was asking for funding for too many children, and resulted in the school board owing the provincial government six hundred thousand dollars.