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Stability, seismic upgrades top priorities of VSB trustee amid budget concerns

(Photo by Dustin Godfrey for NEWS 1130)

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The new head of the Vancouver School Board (VSB) has laid out her top priorities as she settles into her new role, but it’s still unclear how she plans to both balance the books and keep schools open.

Diane Turner spoke publicly for the first time Thursday since Education Minister Mike Bernier dismissed the previous nine-person board for failure to pass a balanced budget by June 30 and appointed Turner official trustee on Monday.

“My top priorities right now are to create a respectful and stable environment for all staff, students and teachers through the district,” Turner says. “I want to make sure the seismic upgrade program gets a little acceleration.”

The first public board meeting will be held Nov. 7 at the VSB office on West Broadway.

Turner reiterated she has halted the school closure process for the foreseeable future. The previous board acknowledged they could not balance the budget without serious cuts or closures, and it’s unclear what Turner will do to tackle the VSB budget woes.

“I thought we needed to have a very thorough discussion around the resources allocation for this school district as well as what are the impediments to balancing budgets in school districts,” Turner says, adding she will be speaking with Bernier.

The previous trustees were set to approve a budget Monday that they previously rejected in June, which included $20 million in cuts.

Turner says she will make changes to the way the board works with the public and hopes to “change the narrative about public education in Vancouver.”

Several VSB senior staff went on sick leave last month amid an investigation into bullying and harassment by trustees. Turner says she expects all the staff to be back by mid-November.

Though she didn’t specify why senior staff said they felt unsafe, Turner said some have told her they have felt safer since her appointment.

She also addressed concerns about her appointment, rather than election, to the sole board position.

“It won’t feel like democracy has been served to people. I guarantee that,” she says, adding she is not acting on behalf of the province. “I do think I’m going to have to be very careful to make sure that it is not seen that I am a government official.”