Parents' Voice 'facts' disputed by school district

Burnaby Parents' Voice has numerous statements on its election brochure, but their facts don't seem to jibe with those of Burnaby school district.

Parents' Voice, which is running five candidates for school trustee in the Nov. 19 civic election, grew out of a group that formed to oppose the district's anti-homophobia policy last spring.

As reported in the NewsLeader, its brochure found on its website includes several statements under "Did you know...?"

One is that "two Burnaby schools sit empty while $1 million was spent renting space."

Parents Voice candidate Helen Ward wrote in an email that the two schools are Duthie-Union and Marian High, with some space there rented out for adult education programs.

Not so, says the school district.

As reported, the Duthie Union site, near Hastings Street and Duthie Avenue, is currently home to a daycare and district storage.

The Marian facility is currently fully leased to the independent Carver Christian High School, said Greg Frank, the district's secretary-treasurer, by email.

"Our current rent is $430,000 plus 100 per cent of the operating and maintenance costs for the facility," said Frank. "This site will be required over the long term for use as an elementary school as the area is redeveloped over time and density in the surrounding area increases."

As for what the district pays to rent and lease space for its programs, he said for the year ended June 30, 2011, that figure was $795,573. That amount also includes more than $172,000 in maintenance, operating and other costs that would be incurred regardless of whether the programs were located in school district facilities or not.

This year, those costs will be "significantly lower" after it cancelled its lease at the North Burnaby Adult and Continuing Education Centre, he said. Its provincial grants for English Language Services for Adults were downsized, so the program has been consolidated into a portable pod adjacent to Windsor elementary.

The district does own another large property, across the old New Haven site on Marine Drive, but that is being used for adult and continuing education programs, two daycares and storage.

As school board chair, Larry Hayes of the Burnaby Citizens' Association, noted in an earlier interview, such locations are too inaccessible by transit to make them suitable for some of its programs making it necessary to lease other space.

The Parents' Voice brochure also mentions that 19.7 per cent of students with Burnaby addresses didn't enroll in Burnaby public schools.

Ward said the figure of 5,772 (19.7 per cent) was calculated from numbers provided by the Ministry of Education of students with Burnaby postal codes.

Frank followed up with the ministry and said "it would appear their numbers included more than just school-age students but also included adults taking K-12 and continuing education courses." The numbers also appear to include some students not in Burnaby as "the postal code references are too broad."

The district's calculation is that there are 27,127 school-age students living in Burnaby with 23,917 of them enrolled in the city's regular K-12 schools, Frank said. That doesn't include programs such as continuing education, alternate learning, distributed learning, B.C. School for the Deaf and the program at the youth prison.

That puts the proportion of school-age students in Burnaby not in the district's schools at just under 12 per cent.

The district believes "the number of Burnaby students attending independent schools is fairly consistent with other Lower Mainland school districts" and that Burnaby has more students attending its schools from neighbouring districts than vice versa, Frank said.

The district currently has 1,222 students who live outside Burnaby, he said.

Meanwhile, Ward elaborated on Parents' Voice's concerns leading it to state "in two years the school board paid out $111,783 to one pizza supplier."

Hayes said in an earlier interview that the vast majority of that money was through a contract to Panago, which supplies one of the menu offerings for its school meals program, a subsidized program for eligible students.

"First, it's important to have expenses easily available on SD41 website itemized for public scrutiny and transparency," Ward said.

"Secondly, we will ask low income parents—the target group for hot lunch programs —how school funds can be spent that are intended to help them," she said. "Would low income parents prefer to have cash or perhaps vouchers so they can purchase food of their choice for their children? That would be my preference as a low income parent myself."


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