A special advisor has suggested the Vancouver board of education consider closing as many as 19 schools to deal with 10,000 empty seats and on-going budget woes.
Whether any closures will occur is not yet known. Education Minister Peter Fassbender has signalled support for the proposal but he didn’t indicate Tuesday if he will force the board’s hand.
The board has called a public meeting for Wednesday to discuss the Ernst & Young report.
The closure recommendation is just one of 59, including a dozen that are directed at the B.C. Education Ministry. If all 12 are enacted, promised by Fassbender, some will affect the way other school boards conduct their affairs as well.
For example, the EY report says the ministry should:
– Reduce the amount of money it holds back from school districts (to deal with enrolment fluctuations later in the year) and accelerate release of that money.
– Work with districts to improve their reporting of expenses and revenues by program and help them find ways to increase revenues.
– Consider requiring districts to make monthly reports on construction projects.
– Insist that all districts establish audit committees, with trustee and non-trustee members, to improve financial oversight. (This has been required in Ontario for several years and is already in place in Richmond.)
– Require minimum training for new trustees to ensure they have the skills and knowledge necessary to do the job.
For Vancouver in particular, the report recommends a simplified process for developing and approving annual budgets. That’s reminiscent of a BCCPAC resolution passed last year that called for standardized processes to ensure that information about preliminary budgets is complete, clear and transparent.
“Parents, PACs and DPACs often participate in the annual district preliminary budget process,” the resolution states. “Frequently, the information provided by the boards to aid in the consultation is complex, incomplete and lacking in options. The consultation process is reduced to pleas to keep certain programs or measures and offer little or no choice to parents as to what measures they prefer or other programs they may no longer want.”
The EY report says Vancouver’s initial preliminary projection, which is prepared months in advance, is especially problematic because it overstates the deficit. Release of that preliminary projection results in a misleading public perception of the board’s financial situation, it says.
Last year, the difference between the initial projection and the amended budget was $36 million.
File photo of a Vancouver board budget meeting.