Vancouver School Board to approve budget after months of delay, controversy

Vancouver school board trustees are now ready to approve a balanced budget, after refusing to pass it in April, then again in June.

Education minister said school boards must pass balanced budgets in order to qualify for seismic funding

Vancouver School Board Chair Mike Lombardi says education money from the province falls short of what school districts need. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

After months of delay and heated debate, the Vancouver School Board is finally set to approve a balanced budget tonight.

The about-turn comes after many tumultuous months for the VSB.

The VSB budget for the 2016-17 school year initially included an over $21 million shortfall. In April, the Board voted against approving the budget in a 5-4 decision in protest, according to board members, of cuts to programs, services and staff.

The school board then had until June 30 to pass a balanced budget, which, failing to do so, put the entire board at risk of being fired and replaced under the provincial school act.

Again the board refused, rejecting a proposal from the B.C. government to use money from the sale of school lands to reduce the deficit.

After that decision Education Minister Mike Bernier ordered a forensic audit of the VSB books, but stopped short of firing the board.

In the meantime the cuts were implemented by the superintendent's office in accordance with the provincial act, rendering the board's position largely symbolic.

Then, at the end of September, WorkSafe BC began an investigation into allegations of bullying and a toxic work environment at the board office after six senior managers were reported to be on medical leave. 

That prompted Bernier to say he was now seriously considering replacing the trustees.

Seismic funding the game changer

What's changed now for the board, according to chair Mike Lombardi, is the Ministry's stance on seismic funding.

Last week, the Minister said school boards must pass a balanced budget in order to qualify for seismic funding.

"Once we heard that, we knew we were in a position to make sure that we get seismic funding for our kids," he told host Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.

Lombardi said the months of delay were worth it.

"I think we made the point we had inadequate funding. We were able to rally our community to support that. Hopefully now, education funding will become the determining issue," he said.

Rocky relationship with the Ministry

Lombardi is confident more funding will be coming to the board during an election year, and also that Bernier will be willing to work with the board.

"I have a very good relationship with the Minister of Education ... my view is we're going to disagree on issues from time to time, but we both have a mutual goal [of] a great school system for kids," he said.

The minister sent the following statement to CBC News.

"This is yet another political tactic from the Vision members of the VSB. The fact is they failed to comply with the School Act by failing to present a balanced budget by June 30. The current posture of the Board inspires no confidence coming at the last minute before the Special Advisor tables his report."

The board is expected to vote at 7 p.m. PT tonight.

With files from The Early Edition

To hear the interview, click on the link labelled VSB's Mike Lombardi ready to approve school budget