After an initial hiccup last week, the Vancouver School Board voted last night to pass their $736-million budget for the 2023-24 school year. But not all trustees voted in favour, nor were they all present.
Although district staff had presented a balanced budget to the board on May 1, trustees Suzie Mah and Jennifer Reddy voted against holding a budget vote that night, citing outstanding questions about the budget.
They also tried to amend the budget to find money for textbooks and adult education, to expand and improve the school food program, to invest in district child-care initiatives, and to fund substitutes for resource teachers. These amendments did not receive majority support from other trustees and failed to pass.
Some of Reddy and Mah’s criticisms of the budget process and its funding priorities were shared by the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council and the local teachers’ unions.
At the May 1 meeting, Mah presented a motion to delay the budget vote until May 29, but it was amended to hold the vote on May 10. Provincial law requires all school boards to submit a balanced budget to the Education Ministry no later than June 30.
Trustee Christopher Richardson put forward a motion to pass the budget last night, and it was passed. Mah voted against the motion, and Reddy was not present at the meeting.
“It is a little disappointing that the opposition or concern with a motion has taken this turn of saying we’ll just step in and use procedural matters to thwart the progress of the board,” Richardson said, referring to the delay on the budget vote.
“I say this with hesitation because I know that we all have a job to do, we all have our concerns and our priorities.”
At the May 1 meeting, Mah cited her failed amendment seeking to fund the replacement of resource teachers, such as special needs teachers, from the first day they are absent, as one reason she would not vote for the budget. Currently the district only replaces absent resource teachers on the third consecutive absent day.
“I cannot in good conscience vote in favour of this budget,” Mah said.
After rumours spread last month that the district was considering closing schools to balance the 2023-24 budget, board chair Victoria Jung released a letter denying the district had plans to close schools or school annexes to balance this budget.
District policy requires that after announcing the board is considering closing a school, they must allow a period of at least 60 days for public consultation, in addition to board and committee meetings.
For example, district staff brought their proposal for closing Queen Elizabeth Annex to the board at a public board meeting on Jan. 17, 2022. But although there were criticisms of the consultation process, the board did not vote to close the school until June 6 that year, nearly five months later.
The Coalition of Progressive Electors, better known as COPE, the municipal party trustee Mah ran under last fall, have launched a campaign, including a fundraising concert this weekend, calling on the district to reject school closures and land sales to balance the next budget the board will vote on in 2024.