SuperBulletin - Let the sun shine in!
Dear Parents and Staff,
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair"�
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859
This is perhaps the best way to describe the circumstances in which we find ourselves these days. The last few weeks have been pretty dark for many as the shape of the coming budget challenge took form. The next will be even tougher as we face the prospect of making drastic reductions in order to balance the budget and address an $18.1 million operating budget shortfall.
We are in the midst of a perfect storm as this shortfall represents the culmination of declining enrolment, loss of Ministry of Education grants, and escalating operating costs. Our District Budget Team, with preliminary thoughts from trustees, school administrators, students and the broader community has spent many, many hours grimly assembling a list of possible areas to cut or reduce - none of which are palatable.
After seeking further input from our community, on April 29, the Board of Education will approve a proposed budget. The impact of the budget changes will be felt across the district and throughout our community. While the goal is to minimize the effect on the classroom, the reality is that no matter what is approved, teaching and learning will be impacted. Of course, any decrease in programs, services or functions at the district or school level will ultimately affect what goes on in our classrooms. The simple fact is that this school district cannot continue to operate in the same way as it once did.
Education is a labour intensive system. Almost 92% of our budget is concerned with salaries and benefits. After years of student enrolment decline, rising costs and shrinking real dollars, where provincial grants have not met current operating expenditures or educational needs, we have become a very lean organization. It is unavoidable to achieve the shortfall this year without enduring the pain of staff layoffs. We will try to minimize these through attrition and other means, but we know that people will lose their jobs. Education, by its very nature, is a human organization. The people losing their means of employment are family, friends and colleagues. They have put their heart and soul into making the district the very best that it can be and have always placed children as a first priority. Some are just beginning their careers and others are experienced. No matter what, we know that this will be most challenging for them. We will miss them.
On behalf of the Vancouver School District, I want to thank everyone for your patience and understanding. In particular, I wish to extend my appreciation to those who will be leaving us as a result of these cuts. The reductions extend into almost all areas of the district and impact support staff, teachers, school and district administration in many ways.
Our schools attend to a wide diversity of learner needs, and as our Core Purpose states: "It is our collective responsibility to ensure the highest quality of learning experience for all students with a focus on student engagement, learning and development in a safe, inclusive environment."
We have incredible staff who are committed to ensuring the very best educational opportunities for all of our students. Whether at the district level or out in schools, our dedicated staff, no matter what their role, contribute in many ways to the success of our students.
In spite of the budget challenges faced over these last several years, staff and students have shown amazing resilience and strength to do the best job that they can in support of teaching and learning. However, the impact of the reductions proposed in order to balance the 2010-2011 operating budget is severe and will shake the very core of the system. Proposed cuts and changes in areas of enrolling and non-enrolling teachers, specialty teaching programs, support to schools, staff and program development, school and district administration, special programs, facilities and operations will compound and compromise the ability for our system to maintain and continue the same level of service provided in the past.
While our ultimate goal and 'Core Purpose' as stated earlier will remain, our ability to attend to the myriad challenges and individual needs will take a very different pathway in the coming years. Our goal will be that much harder to achieve. For the first time, we will consider calendar changes in order to reduce job cuts. Facing such a difficult predicament, facility closure is also much closer to becoming a reality for the Board and our community.
You are thoughtful, hard working people who want the very best for the students in your collective care and you rely upon each other to ensure that this is so. These cuts will undoubtedly take a toll on an already overworked system. Out of necessity, the limited remaining support to schools will be placed in clusters around communities of schools. While still maintaining a global, district-wide support for certain areas, many programs will be severely curtailed. The resultant outcome will mean reduced service to schools and the reliance on schools to work together as collaborative units.
So, you might ask, where is the best of times that I quoted at the outset? I can proudly indicate that life goes on for us in Vancouver - and it is because of you! I had the pleasure of visiting schools again last week - as I strive to do most weeks. As I spoke with some young Kindergarten students, I wondered what the students of the past would have thought about what we see today? I also wonder about what life will be like for those attending our schools in the future? Can we even imagine what the world will be like when the current Kindergarten students graduate in the Year 2022? Things change, but some things stay the same. The importance of public schooling and the promise that it holds for the future for each and every child remains true. This we must hold on to, protect and maintain as a trust for the generations yet to come.
So, it is the best of times. Our students continue to do exceptionally well in all areas. They do well because of the exemplary efforts of all staff in all reaches of our district. This includes the many folks who work quietly behind the scenes supporting our system and ensuring our success.
Thank you for continuing to rise above those hard days -- those dark times. Let's leave the Winter of our despair far, far behind and seek out the season of light and the Spring of hope. Let the sun shine in.
Superintendent of Schools