Education minister criticizes Vancouver school board for refusing to sell Kingsgate Mall to help balance budget

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      Education Minister Mike Bernier says he's "disappointed" that the Vancouver board of education refused to balance its budget on Wednesday (June 29).

      “Our offer was a simple one—we gave them the go-ahead to sell Kingsgate Mall and put the proceeds back into education services," Bernier said in a statement on the B.C. government website. "We backed that up with a guarantee of almost $6 million in exchange for a small ownership share in the mall if the sale does not happen in the next school year. Either option would have made sure the budget was balanced in Vancouver."

      Bernier also claimed that the board was investing $37 million annually in "empty seats", which is a reference to the 84.6 percent utilization rate in schools.

      The province has demanded that Vancouver boost utilization to 95 percent in order to receive funding for seismic upgrades.

      Under the School Act, boards of education are required to balance the budget by today (June 30).

      Trustees have opposed selling a capital asset, Kingsgate Mall, to cover the operating budget. The mall generates about $750,000 per year.

      A Vancouver school board statement noted that the province's proposal "did not include any more provincial funding".

      The board's senior management team had projected a $21.8-million shortfall for 2016-17. More than 92 pecent of the board's revenue comes from provincial operating grants. The management team noted that 82.7 percent of expense go to "instruction-related functions", 13.1 percent to "building operations and maintenance", 3.1 percent to "district administration", and 1.1 percent to "transportation and other functions".

      Some trustees made their views known over Twitter, including the chair, Mike Lombardi.

      Another Vision Vancouver trustee, Patti Bacchus, took aim at Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson for tweeting how "frustrating" it was to him that the board refused to balance the budget.

      The last time the Vancouver trustees refused to balance the budget was in 1985. The Social Credit education minister at that time, Jack Heinrich, then fired the Coalition of Progressive Electors-controlled board and replaced it with a trustee.

      In 1986, all nine COPE candidates were elected to the board, which indicated that the public supported the trustees' actions.