Mike Lombardi says he’s had enough.
As a school board trustee, he has seen year after year of cuts to public education in Vancouver, blaming it on underfunding by the B.C. provincial government.
Faced with a $25 million shortfall for 2016-2017, the board will have to slash some more. It has to balance the budget as required by the School Act, or else get fired by the province.
A trustee since 2008 and now on his first term as board chair, Lombardi doesn’t want to do it anymore.
“I’m not going to do this dirty work,” Lombardi told the Straight in a phone interview.
The former teacher said that he was elected to stand up for children and their education. He can’t stand by any further while the system is gutted some more.
“I’m willing to be fired, absolutely,” Lombardi said.
In 1984, the Social Credit government fired the entire Vancouver school board for refusing austerity measures to meet the budget decreed by the province.
The board at that time was led by the Coalition of Progressive Electors, which campaign on a platform of no more cuts to education. A byelection was called, and COPE swept all nine seats in the board.
“They stood up for the kids of Vancouver,” Lombardi recalled.
On March 31, the district’s senior management presented a report indicating a $27.2 budget deficit for the next school year.
To balance the budget, the following cuts were proposed: $7.5 million in administration costs; $2.4 million, facilities; and $17.2 million, educational services.
“It’s devastating,” Lombardi said.
Some 167 full-time jobs would have to be eliminated.
These include all 12 positions meant to assist the most vulnerable kids in the system. These are posts held by ‘enhanced services literacy teachers’.
Also facing cuts are home-instruction teaching positions that support students who are not able to attend school due to a medical condition that prevents them from going to school.
Thirty-three high school teaching positions also face the axe. This will mean that class-size limits of 30 students will now have to be exceeded.
There will be no more anti-racism mentor. The anti-homophobia mentor will also be gone.
Multicultural liaison workers will be reduced.
Teaching staff associated with the band and strings program will be eliminated.
On April 4, Education Minister Mike Bernier announced a $28 million boost to public education.
According to Lombardi, Vancouver will get $2.5 million from this increase, reducing the original project deficit to around $25 million.
“That’s a good start,” the trustee said.
But $25 million is still a lot.
Lombardi noted that after making some $80 million cuts since 2002-2003, there’s “not much more to do” by the Vancouver school board.
On Monday (April 11), consultations will start on the preliminary proposal to balance the budget. The public will have more opportunities to provide input after the district has revised the budget.
The school board has to vote on a budget on April 28.
“I’m not voting for this budget,” Lombardi said. “I could never vote for a budget that has these kinds of cuts for kids. To me, enough is enough.”