British Columbia

B.C. Education Minister says VSB should plan, spend more wisely

B.C. Education Minister suggests the VSB's budget crisis is self inflicted, and that the board needs to understand the province funds schools based on number of students, not capacity.

VSB claims of chronic underfunding met with claims of poor management by education minister

A recent report criticized discovery-based approaches to teaching math for declining international test scores, but UBC professor Susan Gerofsky says concerns are being overblown.

B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier is suggesting the $27 million budget crisis announced by the Vancouver School Board on March 31 is self inflicted, and that the VSB doesn't understand how schools are funded.

"What's really important to stress is when you look around the province at other areas where they're having to close schools, that's because there's fewer students going into the schools," he said. "We fund per student, not per seat."

Mike Bernier is B.C.'s Education Minister. (Mike Bernier MLA website)

Bernier was speaking on CBC's The Early Edition on April 1, responding to claims made by VSB chair Mike Lombardi. Lombardi claimed the board would have to make devastating cuts due to a $27 million budget shortfall and chronic underfunding.

Bernier claims education funding in the province is at an all time high and that VSB has recieved more money, despite enrolment going down.

6,500 fewer students

"When you look at the challenges Vancouver has with approximately 6,500 fewer students in the area and continually declining student makes for some tough decisions," he said.

"There are so many schools that are under capacity, there's opportunities to actually spend that money more wisely. If I was a parent in Vancouver I'd be saying is my student losing out because of the way the board is spending money in other areas." 

Opportunities to save money

When asked directly if he wants the VSB to close schools and sell off properties Bernier responded, " I would have the board look very closely at the opportunities to save money. If you have a school that's built for 450 kids and there's only 200 kids in the school I think they need to look closely at what some of the other school districts around the province are doing."

Many districts in B.C. have recently announced school closures including in the north, the Okanagan, the Kootenays and on Vancouver Island.

Bernier said an audit conducted last year suggested how the VSB could save $37 million a year by addressing the issue of empty seats. The audit also suggested they could recognize a one-time saving of up to $750 million by closing and selling 19 schools.

In January VSB trustees voted unanimously in favour of potentially closing as many as 13 schools over the next 15 years in exchange for overdue seismic upgrades. 

Bernier also denied VSB chair Mike Lombardi's claim that the the province had reneged on a deal to fund Wi-Fi installation in schools.

With files from CBC Radio's The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview click the link labelled: B.C. Education Minister hints VSB should close schools to deal with budget shortfall.