Vancouver School Board rejects B.C. government plan to help balance budget

The Vancouver School Board trustees are risking their jobs by rejecting a plan from the B.C. government to help balance the budget by the deadline tomorrow.

Under provincial law, a balanced budget is due June 30 or the school board trustees risk being fired

Vancouver School Board chairman Mike Lombardi, a former teacher, said he is 'proud to be standing up for the kids of Vancouver' when asked about the possibility of being fired if the board doesn't submit a balanced budget. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

The Vancouver School Board has rejected a proposal from the B.C. government to help balance its budget using the future sale of Kingsgate Mall in East Vancouver.

The board chair said the $5.59-million proposal would have only partially fixed the $21.8-million shortfall in the district's operating budget for next year, and added to future troubles.

"It was not a winning situation for us because we'd have to make the cuts all over again," VSB chairman Mike Lombardi told CBC News.

"It was not additional funding, it was a one time help for right now but it would put us in a deeper hole next year so the trustees rejected it."

The VSB has owned the land under Kingsgate Mall since 1892. It's assessed at close to $80 million, the school board said in April. (Catherine Rolfsen)

Education minister 'disappointed'

Minutes after the vote, B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier released a statement firing back at the school board.

"Very disappointed that #VSB had a chance to help students and they said no they would rather own a mall," he tweeted.

He also claimed the school board was going against the School Act by failing to adopt a balanced budget on time.

Under provincial law, the school board has until June 30 — tomorrow — to pass a balanced budget or trustees risk being fired.

The school board's statement said it is still working towards that deadline, but Lombardi said it won't happen.

"We will not be passing a balanced budget on June 30," said the former teacher. "We're proud to be standing up for the kids of Vancouver."

Sell Kingsgate Mall?

The school district has owned the land under Kingsgate Mall since 1892, when it opened the long-gone False Creek School on the site.

The land is assessed at close to $80 million, according to the school board.

In April, the board began public consultations on what to do with the land, which it said generates $750,000 per year in revenue.

The B.C. government proposal would have allowed the VSB to sell the land, and until it was sold, offered a "guarantee of almost $6 million in exchange for a small ownership share in the mall," according to a government statement.

"This proposal gave them the time and the resources they needed to avoid cuts, and they chose to reject that," wrote Bernier.

Lombardi declined to speak about the Kingsgate mall or any specifics of the proposal, and said he had written to the minister Wednesday night complaining that private land negotiations had been made public.

With files from Angela Sterritt and Dan Burritt


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