June 30, 2016 - 6:30 PM
VANCOUVER - B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier says he won't immediately fire the Vancouver School Board and has instead ordered a full forensic audit of its financial decision-making.
Bernier made the announcement Thursday in response to the board's rejection of a plan the minister says would have helped it submit a balanced budget by its June 30 deadline.
The minister says the audit will take several months and will take an "unflinching look" at the books and governance of the nine trustees.
He would not comment on potential action after the audit is complete, but says he has many options including replacing the elected board with an appointed administrator.
The Ministry of Education had proposed the sale of some school board property to help address a $21.8-million budget shortfall, but board chair Mike Lombardi says it doesn't offer adequate, stable or predictable funding.
Bernier accuses the board of placing real estate holdings above the interests of students and hopes the audit team will help end what he calls political games.
"They are going to do a thorough, a detailed and an in-depth forensic audit of the Vancouver School Board, a full review of their decision-making and the almost half-billion dollars they receive, how that money is being spent and how it should be spent for students," Bernier said in a release.
Lombardi said he welcomes the audit and will fully co-operate.
"The Vancouver School Board over the past decade — because of underfunding and downloading — has had to cut more than $80-million out of our budget, taking into account declining enrolment and inflation," he said at a news conference following the minister's remarks.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has offered his support to Vancouver school trustees, noting that in 2015 city residents paid $15-million more in school taxes than the school board received from the province in education funding.
Robertson said Vancouver operates the most complex of B.C.'s 60 school districts and that council has unanimously supported a motion supporting the board's request for its fair share of provincial funding.
"Cuts will fall disproportionately on our most vulnerable kids," Robertson said in a release.
He urged the minister and school trustees to find a way forward that respects the wishes of Vancouver voters while providing stable, long-term funding for city schools.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016