School trustees wrestling with budget cuts

Vancouver school board refused to make $24 million in cuts, they could be fired

The decision by the Vancouver school board to vote against cutting its budget resonates with local education politicians.

Trustee Ken Clarkson wanted the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows board to take a similar stand in defiance of what he calls provincial under-funding of education.

The Maple Ridge teachers union has asked trustees to pass a “needs” budget, reflecting the amount of money it requires to maintain service levels, rather than one with cuts that is balanced.

Vancouver trustees refused to make $24 million in cuts, setting themselves up to be fired and replaced by a provincial trustee.

Educators across the province are waiting to see what happens.

Clarkson voted against the local budget on April 27, saying “I vote no to our provincial government, which erodes public education. I vote no to our Liberal provincial government, which denies parents the rights to expectations they have for their children …”

Trustee Eleanor Palis spoke against Clarkson’s stance.

“Any one of us could make what may be seen as a brave and heroic gesture by defying their oath of office to send a message, and possibly more than one will,” she said. “I’m not sure the desired effect will be achieved, and truly believe being at odds with each other and possibly the BCSTA and ministry services no good purpose at this time.”

Trustee Susan Carr also acknowledged the “symbolic” no vote from Clarkson, but would not join him.

“If I voted no, I want it to mean something more than a symbolic gesture. I want it to change something. But I know it will do neither,” said Carr.

Clarkson said the Saanich school board has also passed a deficit budget, one of nearly $1 million.

Clarkson said about half of the boards in the province are facing budget cuts, and many have been cutting for years.

“You reach a point where you can’t do it any longer,” said Clarkson, noting the board projects more cuts in each of the next three years.

Maple Ridge Teachers Association president George Serra said the action of the Vancouver board could set a precedent.

“If they get a reprieve, what message does that send,” he asked.

He has, in the past, made presentations to the board to pass a “needs budget,” listing the actual amount needed to maintain services, rather than making more cuts.

“I have been hoping they would do that for three or four years now,” he said.

Local board chair Mike Murray said the issue of underfunding comes up every year at budget time, but that trustees have generally felt that the government would fire them and appoint a trustee to conduct the board’s business.

“And make the cuts in any case.”

He said the board was blind-sided by some of the budget requirements this year.

“It defies logic that a government would fund our unionized staff increases, but choose not to for our non-unionized employees,” said Murray.

“We’ve said to government that we don’t think it’s fair.”


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