Government targets Vancouver trustees, ignores public education funding
The reaction of the Vancouver School Board to the Comptroller-General Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland’s report could have been played out in any school district in BC.
Minister of Education Margaret MacDiarmid asked the comptroller-general to assist the Vancouver school board to ensure a balanced budget. The report criticized the Vancouver school board for carrying out their obligations to the community rather than taking actions necessary to please the Liberal government.
The minister could have chosen any district in BC. The finding would be the same. All boards are cutting. Trustees are democratically elected with the expectation they serve within the guidelines set out in the School Act and the funding provided by the provincial government. A key role of trustees is to advocate on behalf of their communities.
The comptroller-general (page 29 of the report), clearly puts a significant share of the blame for the 2010–11 budget short fall on the government. The Liberal government failed to provide the necessary long-range planning for public education and the necessary structure to hear concerns from the education partners.
The numbers tell the real story
Each budget year, the Ministry of Education says that the ministry is providing “more funding than ever” during a sustained period of declining student enrolment. The facts tell a different story!
- BC student/educator ratio is worse than the national average.
- Per capita spending in BC public schools is far below the national average.
- BC government spending on education in relation to the total provincial budget is steadily falling.
- Every area of student support has fewer specialist teachers.
- The number of classes with three or more students with IEPs continues to rise.
Further cuts to funding are predicted for 2010–11. This will force school districts to dismantle more programs. Districts are obligated to take on more downloaded Liberal initiatives without adequate funding. Joan Axford of the BC Association of School Business Officials points to an increasing structural shortfall. The unstable and chronic annual underfunding of public education by the Liberal government has left boards with few choices in order to balance their budgets.
School district budget cuts impact children in care and youth at risk
Teachers have voiced their concerns that school boards are being forced to reduce student support services in almost every school district in the province. The BCTF has requested the representative for children and youth to formally investigate the impact of school district budget cuts on the direct services to students with special needs and the ESL/ESD programs in school districts throughout BC.
Our members are reporting, boards are choosing to protect classroom positions at the expense of learning specialist teacher positions such as learning assistance, resource room teachers, ESL/ESD, counsellors, and teacher-librarians. Experienced learning specialist teachers who provided learning assistance, behaviour intervention, or counselling are being put back into classrooms. Students with special needs or learning disabilities will see less sustained contact time with a teacher in a class of 30 or more. As a result, students with special needs, especially children in care and youth at risk, will have diluted services and less contact time with learning specialist teachers. Cuts will further increase caseloads for learning specialist teachers which means less contact time for our most vulnerable students.
Liberals bully locally elected government
School board autonomy is being attacked by the Liberal government. Comments by the education minister over the past year are directed at school boards, including threats to replace boards failing to submit balanced budgets; amalgamating school boards; suggestions trustees are untrained and fiscally incompetent; and defending cuts to secondary school sports competitions by claiming secondary school athletes could replace school competitions by exercising or “dancing in the park.”
The most recent plan to reduce school board autonomy is the introduction of a cost-saving scheme to centralize payroll and accounting services and substitute teacher (teacher on call) dispatch. Other mandated programs, such as the carbon-offset credits, have been forced on districts without consultation. School boards are now waiting for more surprises in the 2010–11 school year.
Parents, students, and the general public fight education funding cuts
The dramatic decline in funding for public schools has continued for almost a decade. Neighbourhood schools are disappearing. Class sizes have increased. Student-support services have dwindled. While declining enrolment was a factor in many districts, small declines do not result in substantial savings. Declines have usually been only a handful of students per school. Enrolments will be increasing due to Full-day Kindergarten and record birth rates. The other factor was the choice of the provincial government to reduce tax revenue through generous reductions in corporate taxes.
What can you do?
- Talk to your trustees to encourage your school board to speak out for local autonomy and funding.
- Write a letter to the editor of your community paper defending locally elected school boards.
- Join a local advocacy group to defend and speak out for the right to a fully funded public education.