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Richmond school board dips into reserves again to save CUPE jobs

Several trustees warned the school district might be in the same situation next year, saying education is chronically underfunded. 
Trustee Ken Hamaguchi said chronic education underfunding makes people in the same lifeboat lash out at each other.

Some Richmond support staff sighed a sigh of relief Wednesday evening after the board of education decided to not cut some unionized jobs, instead drawing more money from its reserves. 

Career advisors, half of the library technicians and one educational assistant in the Richmond School District were spared from the chopping block as the board of education decided in a 5-2 decision to draw almost half a million more dollars from its reserves to make up for a $3.9 million budget shortfall. 

But several trustees, although voting to save the jobs, warned the school district might be in the same situation next year, saying there's chronic under funding for education. 

The operating funds to pay teachers and other staff and the capital funding to maintain school district buildings and playgrounds for local school boards are set by the provincial ministry of education.

However, the school district has a legal obligation to balance its budget, something Trustee Ken Hamaguchi pointed out causes strife when local jobs are on the line. 

He said trying to balance the budget with too little money – whereby jobs need to be cut - results in people “lashing out at the people in the same lifeboat.” 

The Vancouver Board of Education was terminated in 2016 by the then-BC Liberal minister of education when it refused to balance its budget. At that time, Richmond’s current superintendent, Scott Robinson, was the superintendent of the Vancouver School District. 

Two trustees oppose dipping further into reserves

Trustees Donna Sargent and Norm Goldstein voted against drawing more money from the reserves to save the CUPE jobs. 

Sargent said money in the school district’s surplus fund is not a “rainy-day fund,” and the solution isn’t to draw more from this fund.  

She pointed out the school district has a three-year plan to get out of its structural deficit, of which next year is the second year of the plan. 

“We can’t use surplus and solve the problem – this will continue… next year and the year after and the year after,” Sargent said. “And it doesn’t just go away when we make some saves, when we make some quick changes.” 

The tension was palpable at the board meeting with a full audience and other people in a spillover room and online over Zoom watching as trustees debated how to balance their budget. 

In the end, trustees took out about $470,000 more from its unrestricted reserve fund, its accumulate surplus, to avoid laying off some CUPE workers, although it went against the recommendation of school district senior staff. 

More to come...