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CUPE questions source of school funding for annual facilities grant

A researcher with the Canadian Union of Public Employees says the B.C. ministry of education is using some of this year's school budget to pay for next year's Annual Facilities Grant, which should be funded separately from the budget. The ministry says it's a way to ensure "flexibility" for school boards.

In an April 2 briefing paper, CUPE researcher John Malcolmson argues that "holdback" funding is being diverted from its real purpose:

"The 'holdback' is a notional account where a small percentage of school operating grants intended for allocations to boards -- from $50 to $70 million -- is reserved from distribution. Generally this is done to enable adjustments to district allocations once actual enrolments are finalized in districts during the school year."

Malcolmson notes that lower than expected enrolments this year have resulted in a "surplus" of $26.3 million in the holdback. Rather than make an additional grant to school districts with this money, "This year the MOE has decided to pre-pay $15.6 million of next year's Annual Facilities Grant out of current year surplus monies."

The AFG is critical for school boards, because it enables them to maintain and repair their existing buildings to ensure health and safety. In 2009, the ministry suspended the grant and obliged boards to fund maintenance and repairs out of operating funds, or do without them.

A ministry spokesperson told The Tyee that the holdback fund is an "accountability" measure, with funds released when school districts have submitted hard enrolment numbers. In this case, $10.7 million of the $26 million in the holdback fund was disbursed to school districts to support their final enrolments.

The rest, $15.6 million, was given to districts "as an advance" on their 2014 AFG. "That portion of the the $26 million enables flexibility" for both school boards and the ministry. The rest of the 2014 AFG, almost $95 million, will be given out in the 2013-14 school year, the spokesperson said.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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