The Vancouver School Board has seen a large chunk of its projected budget shortfall evaporate, but the money is coming from an unlikely source.
The latest numbers predict a shortfall of around $2.1-million.
That’s down from the $14.9-million deficit projected earlier this year, and more than $24-million this time last year.
The big change comes from millions of dollars the district has received as part of the settlement between the province and teachers from last year’s Supreme Court of Canada decision.
That money was supposed to hire new teachers, but according to the district’s budget documents, it already had about 100 “extra” non-enrolling teachers on staff.
So now, instead of funding those teachers from the operating budget, it will use the Classroom Enhancement Fund.
In terms of deficits, the VSB is projecting some larger deficits in future years, increasing from $3.5-million dollars for the 2018/19 school year, up to $10-million by 2022.
Former long-time Vancouver School Board trustee Patti Bacchus says if it sounds like a bit of a “sleight of hand,” that’s because it is.
“It was supposed to be to hire new teachers. They’re going to actually now start using that money to pay teachers they already had on staff, claiming that at some point they could have been laid off but they just weren’t,” she says.
“So it’s like a shell game. They are claiming ‘well, we could lay them off in the budget and hire them with the funds,’ which to me isn’t really the spirit of what that fund was intended for.”
Bacchus says during her time on the board, the priority was always to preserve as many teacher jobs as possible.
“If that’s the approach that’s being taken we would certainly have concerns about that, and we’d be asking questions,” says BC Teachers’ Federation president Glen Hansman.
Hansman says, as part of its deal with the province, money from the Classroom Enhancement Fund needs to be fully accounted for.
“If it’s justifiable and it’s meeting the criteria set by the province, well that’s one thing. If it’s a shell game to make it look like things are rosy and fantastic in Vancouver after all those years of cuts, that would be problematic.”
For its part, BC’s Ministry of Education says the fund is supposed to be used to bring school districts in line with the terms of the agreement with the BCTF.In a statement, it says the cash does not directly help VSB deal with its operating pressures.
In a statement, it says the cash does not directly help VSB deal with its operating pressures.
“Like all school districts in the province, VSB has to go through its preliminary staffing process and confirm the details with the Ministry over the coming months. The notional funding allocated to the Vancouver School Board reflects a return to the levels as stipulated under the agreement that has been reached with the BCTF.”