COPE School Board Trustee Votes "No" to the Vancouver School Board's 2023-2024 Budget

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On May 10th, in a 1 to 7 vote, COPE School Board Trustee Suzie Mah was the only trustee to vote in opposition to adopting the VSB’s 2023-2024 operating budget. There are so many reasons why Suzie voted “no”, but here are some of the most glaring reasons why.

Cuts to service to students with learning challenges
Right now, resource teachers who work with students with learning challenges, or English Language Learners, don't get a substitute teacher when they’re away until the third day! This leaves kids with no services for all that time. These same resource teachers also must substitute for the classroom teacher if there is no teacher to cover the classroom teacher’s absence. The Ministry of Education gives the VSB dollars for these students, but the bureaucrats are preventing them from receiving the help. Suzie asked for an amendment to the budget so that non-enrolling teacher absences are covered, but her amendment was voted down by the ABC majority.

Overworked secondary teachers trying to keep up with program planning for students with learning challenges
Secondary resource teachers are required to regularly review learning plans for high school students who need extra support. Some of these teachers have over 200 student learning plans to review, and they are also not getting replaced when they are absent. We need more resource teachers hired to lessen their workload, and they need to be replaced when they are absent from day one so they can continue to work with the students to whom they’ve been assigned. The budget that was adopted does not include hiring more secondary resource teachers.

No money for textbooks and other learning resources
If you visit any school in Vancouver, you’ll see tattered textbooks and library books that need replacing. Libraries are struggling to replace books when they have met their shelf life. This school board budget needed to have money in it for books and resource replacement. Suzie argued that the budget should restore $13,000 to learning resources budgets and that was voted down.

No additional mental health support for youth
There is much research about the worsening mental health of the school district’s youth. The district needs more teacher counsellors to support Vancouver’s students. There was nothing in the budget to increase the number of teacher counsellors or mental health support workers.

Continued threat of program consolidation or school closures 
There is continued talk about cost savings if programs can be consolidated or moved into larger locations.  An example of this is the IDEAL Mini Program.  The program was forced to relocate to Churchill Secondary.  The reason given for the move was to free up space at Laurier Elementary because of increased student enrolment in the neighborhood. In 2019, neighboring school Laurier Annex, was closed because the school board deemed that enrollment was decreasing in that neighborhood. Three years later, student enrollment has gone up in the Laurier and Laurier Annex neighbourhood. Laurier Annex is currently being leased to The Conseil Scolaire Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF). The lease is expiring at the end of June and there was no will from ABC trustees to re-open Laurier Annex to address increased student enrolment and as a result, the IDEAL community has been uprooted. Short sighted decisions to close schools creates instability for families and once school sites are closed and programs consolidated, they have long term impacts on our communities.

Student programming loses out and the number of VSB managers continues to rise
In the past 3 years, the VSB has hired more senior managers at the cost of over $800,000. $800,000 would staff more than eight full time teachers to provide instruction. From 2008 to 2022, there has been a 271% increase in the operating budget of the Office of the Superintendent. We need to put a stop on this bloat. Students need to be the district’s priority – not hiring high-paid managers. If we were to buy into the false argument of senior managers who continue to talk about decreasing student enrolment, why would we need more managers? We should need fewer managers, since they say there will be fewer students and staff to manage.

Budget transparency and meaningful stakeholder and public engagement
The school board is required to submit a balanced budget by June 30th of each year. In February, the public was asked to engage in an online survey. The survey questions were vague and had the public focus on potential cost savings to address a budget deficit. It did not ask the public about the needs of the system. The board also ran some stakeholder workshops where they, again, asked the participants their opinions about where cost savings could be found. When the draft budget was first released on April 3rd, it was announced that there was a 6-million-dollar deficit. In a matter of 4 weeks, on May 1st, that deficit was reduced to 1.24 million. Over 5 million was “found” through an increase of student enrolment, international student enrolment, provincial funding for food programs, and other line items.  None of this “found” money came from management reductions. Suzie asked for additional time to work on adopting the budget. She wanted to ask more questions and make more amendments. Her request for a delay until May 29th was voted down and on May 10th, Suzie was the only one of eight trustees who voted “no”.

What do we need to do now that the VSB Budget has been adopted?
We need to continue our No Cuts, No Closures CampaignIn the coming months, senior managers will be making more suggestions to trustees to further cut programs and close school sites over several years. We cannot allow this to happen. COPE’s No Cuts, No Closures Campaign will need to continue and pivot.  COPE’s Education Committee will be discussing further actions to fight against erosion of public education services to Vancouver students and vehemently oppose the sale of our public lands. 1,000 people have signed our petition. If you have not yet signed, please do so HERE.  If you would like to donate to the campaign, you can do so HERE.

Finally, a big “Thank You!” to the organizers of the “Leave Them Kids Alone” fundraiser
COPE Co-Chair Tanya Webking and Suzie Mah had the opportunity to speak to an enthusiastic crowd at COPE’s multi-band concert on Saturday, May 13th.  Thank you to COPE member Jed Weiss and COPE Executive Member-at-Large Zakir Suleman for putting on such a great event!  The event raised over $1,500.00 that will further support COPE’s No Cuts, No Closures Campaign.

In solidarity,

Your COPE School Board Trustee,
Suzie Mah