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British Columbia Vancouver school board wants to revamp identification of needy neighbourhoods

Vancouver Board of Education Chairperson Patti Bacchus says the board wants to be able to target resources at the greatest concentrations of need.

Brett Beadle/The Globe and Mail

The Vancouver School Board wants to overhaul how it designates which schools are in impoverished neighbourhoods, meaning some schools that had access to supports such as breakfast programs, Christmas food hampers, anti-poverty counselling and after-school programs will lose them.

The proposed changes, which are being explained during community meetings this week, have some parents worried affected students and families won't have the services they have relied on since the Inner City Program was first introduced by the board 25 years ago. "It's been vital to our community," said Kristina Whelton-Davis, whose child attends Mount Pleasant Elementary, one of the schools that will lose its current status.

"It seems unconscionable that Mount Pleasant would just be removed from the list when there's truly children in need. We still have a high percentage of families benefiting from those supports. Unfortunately, I think the school's going to be hit hard."

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The proposed plan aims to more efficiently distribute anti-poverty resources to Vancouver schools by creating a three-tiered system based on need.

The proposed changes mean that while some schools will lose out, schools in some of the city's most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, including the Downtown Eastside's Sir William MacDonald School and Strathcona Elementary, will get more support.

Patti Bacchus, chair for the Vancouver School Board, said in an interview focusing the board's anti-poverty efforts is the best way to maximize their effect.

"The reality is we do have a limited amount of resources," she said. "And we as a board feel obliged to be accountable that we are spending it in the most effective way we can to have the greatest impact.

"We could try to have a bit of service to everyone across the city – would that be effective? Probably not. So this is looking at where we do see the greatest concentrations of need."

The school board is currently seeking opinions on the overhauled plan. Three community meetings are scheduled this week, with a final decision coming next month.

Monica Moberg, chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, said the amount of public outcry surrounding the report is a silver lining.

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"I'm very grateful to this report for one thing: it's getting people fired up," she said. "And it's making them talk about education, and what is best for our children."

Ms. Moberg, who helped prepare the proposal, expressed concern that Vancouver's public schools are underfunded, forcing a redistribution of services, rather than simply an addition.

"The City of Vancouver really needs to step up and help provide the supports to eradicate poverty, period," she said. "And one of the biggest problems is the improper funding of public education."

British Columbia's school system has been in turmoil as the B.C. Teachers' Federation and provincial government continue to battle over the right to negotiate smaller class sizes. The government announced last week that it would appeal a provincial Supreme Court decision made in favour of the teachers' union.

Ms. Moberg said the decision to appeal highlights the B.C. government's misplaced priorities.

"Challenging that court decision is a huge waste of money in parents' minds, because they would rather see that money going to programs that are being cut."

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