Vancouver School Board overhauling inner city school funding

Parents and teachers are outraged over the Vancouver School Board's controversial plan to overhaul funding for inner city schools.

The board plans to introduce funding system that gives more support to some schools, less to others

Thunderbird School is one of six in Vancouver that will get tier one funding for support. (CBC)

Parents and teachers are outraged over the Vancouver School Board's controversial plan to overhaul funding for inner city schools.

The Inner City Program was implemented 25 years ago — providing additional staff, all day kindergartens, counselling and support workers, and even breakfast programs — to Vancouver schools with high populations of disadvantaged students.

Now the school board wants to boost support for schools hardest hit by poverty by introducing a three-tiered system that ranks schools based on need.

Under the new model, students at the city's most impoverish schools, or tier one schools, would have access to universal breakfast and lunches programs, additional special education assistants and literacy specialists, social-emotional support workers, junior kindergartens, and out-of-school programming.

Students at tier two schools would receive the same benefits, except for junior kindergartens and additional special education assistants.

Students at tier three schools would have access to the same benefits as tier two students, except breakfast and lunch programs would be available on an as-needed basis only.

"By focusing more resources on schools that are clearly in the highest needs category, there is a greater likelihood of creating the equity envisioned in the original Inner City Project," reads an interim report published the board in January.

The report goes on to say "there has been a dilution of supports over the years and it has been felt most intensely in the six schools in communities where there is the most concentrated poverty."

Those six elementary schools are Sir William MacDonald, Lord Strathcona, Grandview, Admiral Seymour, Britannia, and Thunderbird. 

The problem, however, is there is no new money in the provincial budget. Therefore, more support for some schools means less support for others. 

Parents and teachers outraged

Parents and teachers expressed outrage at the board's proposal during a public meeting Tuesday evening.

Lisa McCune has a child attending Mount Pleasant Elementary, which would lose its inner city designation under the new funding model. Projected cuts include community supports, teachers, and youth workers.

"Fifty per cent of the kids in our kindergarten class still have needs," said McCune.

"Because we have inner city school status, that enables us to leverage a whole bunch of other supports like grocery gift cards or skating with Santa or the super science club."

Rickie Lee is also concerned. He has been a teacher at Queen Alexandra Elementary for 10 years, and says his school is one of the neediest in the city. Under the new funding model, however, Queen Alexandra will be a tier two school. Lee is worried service reductions will hurt students. 

"Students that just need a little extra attention, students that may have social emotional problems," said Lee.

Ultimately, Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus said funding changes are tough, but necessary, decisions to make.

"You don't want to be taking away from one to give to another, and it's very hard to determine who needs it more. And yet, we're in a very challenging position of trying to mitigate the impacts of child poverty in the school system on a relatively limited budget  much smaller than we would like to have," said Bacchus.

"You have to make sure you're spending money in the most effective way you can."

More public meetings on the matter will be held Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon. The school board will make a final decision next month.

With files from CBC's Luke Brocki


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