Principiis obsta…Finem respice
Resist the beginning… Consider the end
At the end of the meeting on May 20th which saw the final reading of the budget made famous by its intricate lack of adequate education funding – one of our guests, a parent from Lake Cowichan who shall remain unidentified to protect the effective and intelligent – said simply “If you do what you have always done- you will get what you have always got.” Now under some circumstances this would come under the heading of ‘DUH’ – as all our most annoying adolescents are inclined to observe – but in this case it was a profound summing up of a terrible loss of opportunity.
Years of community work has built a landslide of opinion favouring direct and extrovert action from trustees to place pressure on the province to support our public schools. This is accompanied by a fundamental shift in many over arching organisations like the BCSTA and the BCCPAC towards at least acknowledging the need for more public education funding. This was the year to press our advantage and demand finally what our families and staff must have – a budget centred on community priorities that fulfils the material requirements for ideal learning conditions.
After years of prosperity (at least some people seemed to think so) and heading up to the graft and waste of the Olympics; in a month which saw a provincial election and during a time of sweeping financial doom – the stage was set for something completely different.
We had a full house that night in Cowichan – over one hundred people had taken the evening to stand in a hot, inhospitable room and witness nine people who had the privilege of deciding how this would all go down.
As Trustees in Cowichan we had received- over the last several years- our marching orders – the cry went out during the school closures, the zonal meetings, previous budget processes – “Defend us and tell the government you will not do their dirty work any longer.” To top it all off the Friends of Cowichan Kids presented a petition to the board numbering over 1500 signatures that very evening calling on trustees to submit a ‘Community budget for student learning to the Ministry of Education that restores all funding cut from the budget since 1991 and reinstates our public education services to 1991 levels or better.’
I would not want to be the one to maintain this was the only opportunity we will have to steel our spines and do what must be done. However, it was for now the best prospect. We will have a tough time duplicating the perfect storm which should have endowed the board with the will and the courage to do their jobs properly .Instead we got a precious and priggish adherence to legal constructs which are, after all, in place for the sole purpose of withstanding community need and public wisdom.
Reflect on the people you admire most. The heroes of your heart, the inspirations of your longest days. Chances are they will have been people who stood for something and yes – broke laws – laws bearing far more solemnity and consequence then the School Act of BC. All voting restrictions were built into law – women, native people, black people, those who owned no property- and yet somehow someone decided that the law was less important then the principle being demeaned by that law. People have sat in prison to defy war and injustice, have defended others from tainted legal footwork with their own bodies and their own lives. People no stronger or more powerful than ourselves banished slavery and made what was hardened law on the books unthinkable. Unions once illegal became part of our community life through the bravery of ordinary working folks. It is at best embarrassing to sit in safety and relative comfort and fixate about a piece of legal flotsam so unrevered by its creators that it is revised and amended regularly to suit the ideological whims and fiscal prudery of our governments.
We know that the cycle we are on has only one objective- to make public education a ghetto, fit for no one and serving only those who cannot escape to a private option. All public services are endangered species with targets painted cheerfully on their backsides. This is no misstep by government on behalf of those they enthusiastically represent (and guess what -that ain’t us) -you know the ones – those pariah among us who view the free distribution of crucial services as a crime against the right to profit from human need.
So – where do we pry in to defend our schools?
The clock is ticking.
We can start with the School Act of BC and have a look at the villain of the piece- good old section 111 which states:
This is the tiny phrase so feared by trustees… the one they summon to justify passing the budget no matter how deleterious.
If left unchallenged this bit of legal blackmail means that no amount of community will, priorities originating from our staff and families or natural justice can be brought to bear here. This careful phrase as it stands dispossesses us all.
Truly, any piece of legislation called the School Act of BC should serve the well being of our public schools and the families who need them. The School Act should command the government to apply the highest benchmarks in the running of our classrooms and the provision of our services and programs. The School Act should accept nothing less than ideal standards in the care and protection of community assets. Yet – successive governments have allowed this portion of the School Act to become a stick with which to beat communities wielded only to excuse decline and disappointment.
So – how would a forward-thinking democracy wordsmith School Act of BC , Section111- ‘Preparation of annual budget.’
Perhaps something more like this:
“Estimated expenditures will reflect the priorities established by teachers, parents, support workers, students, aboriginal representatives and community members in our school districts through careful dialogue in order to best provide ideal learning and working conditions in our public schools and estimated revenue will be supplied in accordance with those funding essentials.”
If the laws created by people are wrong then it is our duty to change those laws. No law should exercise undemocratic limitations on the peace, the order and the good government of our neighbourhoods.
We must begin now to transform the School Act into a force for advanced public education ideals. Only then can we all participate in designing the world we dream of for all our kids.
When I was young and first arrived on the island a kindly friend taught me to drive. Among the many excellent skills she imparted she told me this. If you find yourself in a skid never look towards the direction in which you are sliding, always look in the direction you need to travel. She claimed you would then steer out of the skid. In practice, I have discovered this works like a charm.
I really do not know why this piece of advice haunts me at the board table.
I only know that it does.
Your Trustee Pal