Vancouver School Board proposes to close 2 of 3 remaining adult education centres

The Vancouver School Board is proposing to cut two adult education centres, according to a preliminary budget document released Thursday.

If the budget were to pass as proposed, the Gathering Place Education Centre at Helmcken street and Main Street Education Centre at Gladstone Secondary School would close, leaving South Hill Centre as the only adult education centre in Vancouver.

Hollie Williams, the president of the Vancouver Adult Educators Union, said the cuts could affect 700 to 800 students who attend the centres every term.

The centres allow students to earn high school accreditation, take language courses and retake high school courses whose credit may have expired.

"This is not just a knock on new British Columbians but also a barrier to British Columbians who have graduated within the B.C. education system," she said.

Williams said in many cases, students are trying to requalify in order to gain admission to schools like BCIT, Kwantlen and SFU.

"There seems to be a real disregard for people who are trying to really just get ahead in life and lift themselves out of minimum wage jobs," she said.

"There has to be a connection made between education and reducing poverty in this city and in this province. And removing access to education for people does nothing to help."

CBC contacted the Vancouver School Board for an interview but was told no one was available to comment.

'They simply will not go'

Donna Brack, the instructor in charge of the Gathering Place, said she's worried that many of her students won't be able to access South Hill Centre, located at Fraser and East 43rd Avenue.

She said that when she asked her students how many of them had a bus pass, not a single person raised their hand, citing the cost of public transportation.

"When you're living in poverty, not only are you looking for showers and free laundry, you're also chasing down food banks and access to cheap food," she said. 

"A very high percentage of my students will no longer have access to education. They simply will not go."

Brach said that unlike South Hill Centre, the Gathering Place is located in a full service community centre, meaning students can do their laundry, take free showers, access a city library and volunteer in exchange for cheap meals.

"In a one-stop shop, you can actually get a lot of needs met that build your confidence," she said. "It's that combination of opportunities at that centre that doesn't exist anywhere else."

Operating at a loss

According to the preliminary budget document, the centres are being consolidated because they are operating at 55 per cent capacity.

The document said the program operated at a loss in the 2015-2016 school year, and the same is projected for the 2016-2017 year.

Williams said that enrolment dropped by 20 per cent in 2015 and another 20 per cent in 2016, after the government ended adult education subsidies for all students who had completed high school.

That meant certain course upgrades and English classes that were previously offered for free now cost $550.

In 2012, there were six adult education centres in Vancouver. Since then the Downtown Eastside Learning Centre, the Hastings Learning Centre and a West End centre housed at Lord Roberts Elementary have closed.

Williams said she plans on attending the public consultations scheduled to take place before the budget decision April 24.

"We intend to take students down to the school board to make these stories more personal," she said.