Vernon School District trustees are in agreement that the board office is desperately in need of an upgrade, but taking resources away from the classroom is not something they’re prepared to do, at least not yet.
Trustees recently had a lengthy debate with administrators about the current state of the board office on 15th Street.
Trustee Mitzi Fortin says she is hesitant to go ahead with the replacement and renovation project because of the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision which upholds a 2012 ruling that the legislation violated the teachers’ constitutional right to collective bargaining and removed provisions regarding class size and composition.
It will compel the B.C. government to add as much as $300 million to the education budget to hire more teachers.
“Our goal is to optimize student learning with our budgets,” said Fortin.
“I’m having a hard time getting my head around how that optimizes student learning, doing our board office.
“I fully agree and acknowledge that these are terrible conditions and these facilities do need to be replaced, but I think we really need to see that money before we make that decision, that the Supreme Court ruling will be funded by the government and then we can bring this back before the board and I would argue differently.”
Secretary-treasurer Sterling Olsen says the board office has the worst facility condition rating of all facilities in the district.
“The board chair wrote a letter to the minister, asking if the ministry would be supportive of any funding for the board office and the board is aware that the response was that the board needs to deal with the renovation and replacements and maintenance of administrative buildings out of their own resources,” he said.
When it goes ahead, the project is estimated for new construction of about 700 square meters to replace portables and renovation of the existing 1,334 square meters. Currently there is 626 square metres of space located in temporary portables that accommodates teaching staff, aboriginal education staff, meeting space including the board room, and warehouse space.
Chairperson Kelly Smith says she sees a direct relationship between where teachers work and the services they provide to students.
“My concern is we have employees who are working in a work place that is inadequate for their needs, so how does that affect their work and for how long can we ask them to stay in those spots because all of these are continuing programs out here, none of them are temporary,” she said.
“They are happening all the time and they are supporting students.”
District superintendent Joe Rogers said there is cash available from the $1.5 million sale of West Vernon school 10 years ago.
“We have seven properties and we’ve disposed of three or four and made $3 million. So if you had $4.5 million from property disposal, you would be in a position to spend the money,” he said.
“I had a meeting with international (students). They have to get out of the basement and said they can’t stay down there anymore: too much mould, too much stink.”
“Hopefully we’ll get 46 more teachers in the system, but where are we going to put them? I know that every board says we don’t want to spend operating money, I get that, but much of this money is from sale of properties, so I think it’s something for the board to consider,” said Rogers.
Trustees approved the local capital budget plan, with the exception of spending on the board office, and the addition of a bus wash and hoist.
“We’re not killing the motion, just delaying it,” said Olson.
“As soon as there is clarity around the Supreme Court and any financial implication around that, this item gets brought back to the board.”