Education minister refuses emergency funds for Vancouver school board

VANCOUVER - B.C.'s education minister has denied a request for emergency funding by Vancouver School Board trustees, saying the cash crisis the board is facing is their own fault.

VANCOUVER - B.C.'s education minister has denied a request for emergency funding by Vancouver School Board trustees, saying the cash crisis the board is facing is their own fault.

"This is not an emergency," Margaret MacDiarmid said after meeting with trustees. "This is a situation where poor choices that the board has made have diverted millions of dollars from the classroom to other areas."

The two sides met for the first time Tuesday after a scathing report released last week by the province's comptroller general, who criticized the board for poor governance and a lack of strategic planning.

Vancouver school board chairwoman Patti Bacchus said the minister walked out of what was supposed to be an hour-long meeting.

MacDiarmid said she left the meeting after 45 minutes to attend another event, but added that she was disappointed with the trustees' attitude toward the independent report.

"The Vancouver School Board was very dismissive of the majority of the recommendations the comptroller general has made, saying that they're doing an outstanding job and there's no need for them to change," she said. "That is a great concern to me."

Bacchus said the money woes mean a reinstatement of all program and staff cuts announced earlier this year to address a multimillion-dollar deficit.

She said trustees will consider a revised budget on June 14 and hold a final vote on June 23, less than a week before elementary schools break for the summer.

MacDiarmid encouraged parents to read the report online.

"If I were a parent in Vancouver I would be very concerned because I've been told over the years that there's not enough money and what this report demonstrates is that the money that is there has not been managed well."

MacDiarmid said other school boards, including those in the Okanagan Similkameen, Grand Forks and Surrey, have done a relatively good job of dealing with their budgets.

"There's a striking difference in the way that different boards are governed," she said.

"One of the things that the comptroller general said is that sound management advice has been given to this (Vancouver) board and they've ignored it."

MacDiarmid said she has the power to fire the board for financial mismanagement but it's too early to say if that will happen in this case.

The ministry-ordered report offered cost-cutting measures such as closing schools or hiking daycare rental rates, but Bacchus said it failed to address the basic question of whether the provincial funding model meets school district needs.

After the report was released last week, Bacchus said it wasn't made available to the board before it was publicly released.

But MacDiarmid said comptroller general Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland offered to provide ongoing briefings to the board as she was preparing the report, with the condition that its contents not be publicly discussed before it was forwarded to the education minister.

"The Vancouver School Board was not prepared to do that," MacDiarmid said.

She said there's now a "huge gulf" between the two sides, adding no date has been set for another meeting.

Instead, board trustees offered to give her a written response to the report, most of which was discussed at the meeting.(The Canadian Press, CKNW)

 
 
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