COPE launches “No Cuts, No Closures” campaign to save Vancouver Schools
The COPE Executive unanimously endorsed a campaign to oppose the suggestions made by senior managers to address the school district’s structural deficit in setting the Vancouver School Board’s budget for 2023-2024. The budget is to be finalized and voted upon by trustees on May 1st. Some of the suggestions made to find financial savings, if approved, would result in closures of annexes and schools that are deemed “under utilized”, the disposal of publicly-owned school district land, and the consolidation of alternate and district programs. If the ABC majority passes a budget approving these actions, there will be huge negative consequences to students and their families.
As part of our campaign, we will be going to schools and neighbourhoods to petition, hand out information, and garner support for no cuts, no closures. We’ll need volunteers to help us do this work, as we’ll be organizing people to complete surveys, write letters, and attend Board meetings to make our voices in opposition heard.
What is a structural deficit and how did we get here?
The Board claims that for the past ten years, they have had to use money from previous years’ savings (known as the accumulated surplus) to balance the budget. The accumulated surplus is running out and there will no longer be enough funding received from the provincial government to cover district expenses. The use of the accumulated surplus has not only occurred over the past ten years; in my experience as a union activist, I have seen this surplus used to cover budget shortfalls for at least twenty years. Instead of building a case to prove that the system is underfunding, the Board has been too quiet in demanding more funding for Vancouver students. In May of 2022, COPE trustee Barb Parrott moved a motion to have the district’s Advocacy Committee develop a robust advocacy campaign to achieve adequate funding for public education. This motion was carried but to date, nothing much has happened other than letter writing to the government.
The Board claims that through cost-saving measures and restructuring operations, the 2023-24 budget will reflect Goal 2 of the Education Plan to increase equity, achieved through effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability. While, arguably, the operations of a school system should be effective, efficient, and sustainable, it is the responsibility of trustees to ensure that efficiency is not used as a method to take away the democratic and fundamental right of the public to participate in meaningful involvement in the budget process. Decisions that are made need to protect the rights for Vancouver students to have fully-funded education programs that meet every individual student’s needs. Restructuring and cuts to programs for the sake of efficiency will inevitably cause distress and concern to families who are already struggling to get their children into their neighborhood schools and to families who are trying to get support for their child who has learning challenges.
Furthermore, the Board claims that one of the reasons for the structural deficit is declining enrolment. There has been disagreement as to whether the district continues to have declining enrolment. In fact, the district’s enrolment has gone up slightly this year. Enrolment projections have not factored in the possible increase of student population that may come from the Broadway Plan or the development happening around Oakridge Mall. Other reasons for the structural deficit include:
- The creation of programs and services that do not have a funding source or that rely on surplus funds;
- Exempt staff and collective agreement wage lifts not fully-funded by the government over time;
- Lack of funding to keep up with inflation;
- Maintaining more than the required numbers of non-enrolling teacher staffing.
These all point to the fact that Vancouver’s student population has diverse learning needs and that the provincial government has not stepped up to meet the district’s needs.
The Impact of School Closures and the Disposal of School Land
Neighbourhood schools are the hearts of communities, and it is neighborhood schools that attract families to move into neighborhoods. There is contemplation to close annexes and move students to main school buildings to save money. Annexes were originally implemented decades ago to address overflow from main schools as well as offering younger students (Kindergarten to Grade 3 or 4) an opportunity to learn in a smaller and less populated environment. Many students have benefited both socially and educationally in annexes. Similarly, there is also a suggestion that main schools that are underutilized should also be closed and that students be moved and combined with another main school’s student population. While closing schools and consolidating student populations may save money, how disruptive would this be to families who need to suddenly change child care arrangements, or now need to drive or bus their children to school? How would secondary students feel about being in more populated school and how would that impact both student learning and behavior?
If our annexes and main schools were to be closed, and the buildings to be leased out or sold, there is little likelihood that the district will ever be able to get the building and land back should there be an increase in enrolment. Would the ABC majority contemplate disposal of land to for profit developers and businesses? Or would there be a consideration to lease the land for non-profit purposes like day care or to build low cost housing?
One of COPE’s education policies is that we do not support the sale of publicly owned land. Public lands need to continue to be in public hands. COPE also believes in protecting and improving neighbourhood schools. We need to strongly oppose school closures and the disposal of school land.
The Impact of Consolidation and Relocation of Secondary Programs
Vancouver has several alternate and district choice programs that operate at satellite locations. One budget consideration has these programs move back into their nearest secondary school. Adding these students back into a main secondary school may impact their willingness to attend school. There is also talk of consolidating many alternate and district choice programs in one or two locations. A potential impact of this could be the stigmatization for those students attending these locations.
In the public survey which was released on February 17th (https://ca.research.net/r/TM8GQKY), question 1 talks about the possibility of combining classes with low enrolment into one class. The example given was combining French 9 and 10. It would be stressful for teachers to be asked to deliver two curriculums to two sets of students. It could also be difficult for students to get the support they need to be successful if their teacher had to now teach to two groups.
COPE’s Campaign and how you can help fight back these proposed budget actions
- Complete the Public Budget Survey (https://ca.research.net/r/TM8GQKY) and choose the answer “I do not support” to the first three questions;
- Make a written submission to the Board prior to April 24th via email to ([email protected]) or post to: Attention: Secretary Treasurer’s Office, 1580 West Broadway, Vancouver, BC V6J 5K8;
- On April 19th and April 24th, you can present at the Committee of the Whole Meetings by emailing [email protected] by 4:30 pm on the Wednesday before the applicable meeting date;
- You can attend the April 3rd Special Board Meeting – The budget will be presented and the public is welcome to attend this meeting;
- You can attend the May 1st Open Board Meeting where the 2023-2024 Budget will be finalized.
Become even more involved in the campaign by:
- Volunteer to help go to schools, neighbourhoods, and farmers markets to petition, hand out materials, and garner support. If you are interested in volunteering, please email COPE school trustee Suzie Mah at [email protected];
- Donate money to the No Cuts, No Closures campaign. The COPE executive has authorized $500 for the printing of materials for this campaign but we may need more funds if we need to put together a march or an event. Please consider donating and the money will be targeted for this purpose. To donate click HERE.
Time is of the essence
Trustees will be finalizing the budget on May 1st. We have two months to mobilize the public to pressure trustees to not pass a budget that will close schools, sell off public land, and consolidate programs that may negatively impact students.
Thank you for your support for public education. I may be asking you to do more in the coming weeks as this campaign is evolving as more information rolls out. Stay tuned!
Your COPE School Board Trustee,
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