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Vancouver School Board 'reeling' from facilities-funding cuts

Vancouver school trustees say they're "reeling" from a $10.6 million cut imposed by the Ministry of Education on the Annual Facilities Grant.

In an August 27 news release, the Vancouver School Board said the money had been earmarked to pay for upgrading existing school buildings. The release quoted Board Chair Patti Bacchus as saying:

"The province's school trustees voted unanimously at the BC School Trustees Association Annual General Meeting last May to call for the AFG to be increased because it is already inadequate to keep schools in good, up-to-date condition.

"The Ministry is making misleading claims that boards have unspent money to tap for next year's work, but what we have is funding only sufficient to pay the bills for previously committed work performed over the summer. There is no surplus to spend over the coming year."

The VSB release explained that AFG funds are usually spent on "mechanical and electrical upgrades, roof replacements, site improvements... and health and safety issues related to asbestos removal, washroom conditions, and indoor air quality."

The cut affects the whole province, not just Vancouver. In an e-Alert to its members, the B.C. School Trustees Association said today:

The Ministry of Education has announced that it will not be providing the Annual Facilities Grants to districts this year. This represents approximately $110 million of funding that was expected by boards to fund needed repairs and improvements to schools.

In addition, 43 boards will also be receiving notice that holdback money they received at the end of the last school year (from funds left over from the overall block because the mid-year enrolment change was lower than expected) will have an equivalent amount held back from their fall grants. This represents approximately $3.7 million.

... BCSTA President Denesiuk has spoken personally to the Minister and senior ministry staff, expressing her extreme unhappiness about the hardship that these measures will place on boards.

"The loss of these funds will significantly impact budgets that boards have set – budgets that have already been stretched to their limits. It will be impossible for boards to make these mid-year adjustments without affecting existing programs."

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor to The Tyee.

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