VANCOUVER — Trustees for the Vancouver School Board have voted against a controversial budget that was set to chop million of dollars from the board’s 2016-17 budget.
Five of nine trustees rejected the proposed budget that included $24-million in cuts to programs and teaching positions.
Lone Green party Trustee Janet Fraser was the deciding vote, tipping the balance when four trustees for each of two other parties voted as a block.
All four trustees representing the Vision Vancouver party previously committed to voting the budget down, saying it’s time to unite against further cuts to the school system; the Non-Partisan Association trustees voted in favour.
The provincial School Act requires boards to turn in a balanced budget and gives the government power to fire the board if the requirements aren’t met.
The decision leaves the board in a position of uncertainty, as B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier has affirmed that if the board rejected cuts he would be willing to fire the trustees.
Bernier released a statement immediately after the vote expressing disappointment in the board’s failure to adopt a balanced preliminary budget.
He noted the board can still change its mind before a June 30 deadline for delivering its final budget.
“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,” he said in the statement.
“(The vote’s) failure continues this sad trend in Vancouver. We are providing record funding to public education in Vancouver — it’s 20.5 per cent higher than it was in 2001 — even though there are more than 6,000 fewer students. That funding should be going to essential student services, not empty seats.”
Fraser told reporters after the vote that she didn’t know until this evening what her vote would mean. She said she only decided to switch her vote on Monday, and emphasized she believes she made the right decision.
Some key amendments were made to the budget prior to the vote.
Vision Trustee Allan Wong asked staff to look at retaining the elementary band and strings program through a user fee, while Fraser asked to keep the anti-homophobia role in schools. Both recommendations received full support.
Cuts to gifted programs and literacy support were also set to be chopped.
Patti Bacchus told reporters after the vote she doesn’t believe the minister will fire the board, noting the political capital necessary would be “absurd.” She said she refused to allow fear to decide her vote.
The vote in Vancouver came one day after trustees in the Okanagan-Similkameen School District voted to close the only secondary school in Oliver.
(CKNW, The Canadian Press)
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