Many faults in the special advisor's report on the VSB, but we'll persist


UPDATE - June 15, 2010 - Read the board's June 15, 2010 letter to the minister seeking clarification about the ministerial directive.
     Read the minister's response.




UPDATE - June 10, 2010 - Vancouver school trustees will comply with the Ministry directive requiring the board to submit a balanced budget to the Minister of Education for review on or before June 18, and prior to approving the 2010-11 preliminary operating budget.

Board of Education Chairperson Patti Bacchus posted two letters to the minister late today.

The first relates to the Special Advisor report and is a follow up on Tuesday's meeting with the minister.
     Read more.

The second is in response to today's letter from the minister outlining the ministerial directive to the district.
     Read the minister's letter.
     Read the Board's response.





Op-ed letter written by Vancouver Board of Education Chairperson Patti Bacchus as published in the Vancouver Sun, June 8, 2010.

Vancouver school trustees are disappointed the provincial government's recently released review of the Vancouver school board does not help resolve the core challenge facing Vancouver and other school boards across British Columbia: How to avert cuts detrimental to student learning in the face of a growing gap between provincial funding and board responsibilities to deliver education.

Let's be clear, the funding shortfall is due to provincial underfunding and the VSB is just one voice among many boards in the same situation.

Vancouver trustees strongly support the importance of fiscal responsibility. The report confirms we are effectively managing our financial resources by balancing our budget every year, avoiding debt, using sound budget development processes and cash-flow management.

We recognize the importance of ensuring our funding is spent effectively on identified priorities, and we have trimmed district costs by more than $50 million since 2002.

The report found no fault with the way Vancouver allocates resources to educational services. It found that VSB spending on administration was reasonable and in line with other large districts such as Surrey, contrary to the previous education minister's allegations of overspending.

The report also offered suggestions for potential savings, noting several are already underway under the leadership of our board.

We will carefully explore the feasibility of other recommendations in the report for their impact on student learning.

Unfortunately, none of these will avert the millions of dollars in cuts that we, like other boards across the province, are being forced to make for 2010-11, because of the province's failure to fund new costs, such as provincially negotiated salary and benefit increases.

The report primarily challenged trustees' strong focus on maintaining strong student services to support educational achievement and our commitment to working collaboratively with all education partners, which we see as central to our efforts to ensure that scarce resources are spent as effectively as possible.

We will not apologize for putting students first and advocating for the district's needs, within the broader commitment that we have demonstrated to being fiscally responsible and to providing Vancouver's public schools with the best possible democratically elected governance.

The idea that we should obediently and silently adhere to the provincial agenda of cutting programs and closing multiple schools, without speaking up about the impact on our students and our education system or consulting fully with affected communities, doesn't serve the public or our children and youth, nor does it represent the wishes of those who elected us and to whom we are accountable.

We categorically reject the view that the role of elected trustees is to implement millions in school budget cuts without complaint or raising concerns about impacts on student success.

The Vancouver school board is not governed by unelected bureaucrats. If the provincial government wants to replace elected school trustees with provincially appointed executives, that should be debated openly with citizens.

Regrettably, the report contained a number of factual errors, which the VSB will address in a detailed response to the minister.

The minister's mandate to the adviser deliberately barred her from discussing draft findings with the VSB before issuing a final report, and the minister chose not to discuss the report with the VSB before making it public.

Had these normal courtesies been extended and these errors corrected in advance, we believe this would have significantly strengthened the report and allowed the special adviser to make more useful recommendations.

The VSB looks forward to a public meeting with the minister and to getting to work as soon as possible on finding real solutions to our $17-million shortfall.

Reports and additional information

Report on the Vancouver School Board (School District 39). Prepared for the Minister of Education, June 2010 by the Office of the Comptroller General, Ministry of Finance.

Complete CBC coverage of Vancouver Board of Education Chairperson Patti Bacchus  media conference concerning June 4, 2010 release of the Special Advisor's report.

Preliminary Responses by the VBE Trustees to the Special Advisor's Report Recommendations

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