The Vancouver School Board’s LGBT mentor is safe for now, after trustees rejected a proposed budget that would have cut funding to the mentor’s position as part of $24 million in cuts overall.
The board rejected the proposed budget cuts in a close 5-4 vote at a special meeting held at Gladstone high school on April 28, 2016.
Green trustee Janet Fraser joined the four Vision trustees to defeat the proposed budget cuts. The four NPA trustees supported the budget cuts.
Even before the final vote, Fraser proposed an amendment to the budget that would have saved the LGBT mentor position for at least one more year — regardless of the other budget cuts.
(Green trustee Janet Fraser, left, introduced an amendment to save the LGBT mentor./Nathaniel Christopher photo)
“We’ve had quite a lot of consultation and we’ve heard a lot of people who care passionately about different parts of our system and different things they think we should save,” Fraser told the meeting. “And I think the compelling argument for this role is that we can’t have a situation where some students are not safe in our schools.
“I think it’s not acceptable for us, as a district, to be in that position,” she said.
Funding for the LGBT position, which pays $55,275 a year, would have been taken from the district’s $1 million severance fund. Fraser said the board could explore long-term funding options during the next budget cycle.
Her motion to preserve funding for the LGBT mentor passed unanimously.
“It’s a very important and very powerful statement with the vote on that amendment that it was a unanimous vote,” says former trustee Jane Bouey, who was in the audience. “It shows the extraordinary power of the community that came out and voiced the importance of that position and how it really made a difference literally saving students’ lives.”
NPA trustee Stacy Robertson says his NPA colleagues initially viewed the LGBT mentor as a teacher-to-teacher support position that would not necessarily have a direct impact on students. But public feedback convinced them the mentor played a vital role in keeping schools safe for all students.
“So student safety is paramount for any trustee or any person,” he says. “It was important to me, and I think it was important to our NPA colleagues, to make sure that motion went forward, that it got funded.”
“Hopefully we can find a way to permanently fund it,” he adds. “Obviously, it’s very important.”
Vision trustee Patti Bacchus says the unanimous vote to preserve the position speaks volumes about the board’s commitment to supporting LGBT students.
“We heard from several really articulate and courageous students through this process,” she says, “and found that . . . this is really, for some, almost a matter of life and death.”
(Many audience members cheer as a majority of trustees on the Vancouver School Board defeat the proposed budget with its $24 million in cuts./Nathaniel Christopher photo)
Having defeated the proposed budget with its $24 million in cuts, the school board now has until the end of June to find a way to balance its budget. If the board fails to present a balanced budget by then, the provincial government can replace the elected board with an appointed trustee.
But Bacchus is optimistic about the LGBT mentor’s future.
“At this point, we’re not sure what’s coming next,” she says. “We’ve done our best and I’m hoping that, regardless of the rest of the budget, we can follow through on that.”
“It’s at least a reprieve,” she continues, “and I hope that next year we’re coming back to a better budget picture, and I think we will be. With an election on the horizon I think things will be better, so I’m feeling quite optimistic.”
Fraser says the board’s unanimous support of her amendment is a clear signal to any provincial appointee. “We put this in the budget proposal and I’d like to think that if an appointed trustee comes that they would take that as guidance from our board on how we would like to run our district,” she says.
Robertson says he hopes a provincial appointee would be swayed by the relatively small dollar amount required to keep the LGBT mentor position.
“I would encourage any administrator, if they are appointed — and that really is an if at this point, as we don’t know what the minister is going to do — but I would encourage them to listen to the trustees on that particular point if there as an administrator who is going to be making decisions on that budget,” he says.