Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice
Resist the Beginning…Consider the End
Not for nothing do I harbour unrestricted self doubt so this lapse comes as no real surprise. I never cease to be amazed by the insights I can glean from the teachers, support workers and parents when I visit schools and this is as good a reason as any to ramble the halls of our schools. If you find me sitting in your staff room or wandering though the classes with a gormless look on my face do not be fooled – I am forever being informed and listening for all I am worth. However…
I have been the trustee liaison for the various alternate program sites since I began this dark ride. As well I have been aware since its inception in May 2006 of the consequences of our Bill 33 legislation – dashed off mainly to clumsily address class size and composition issues in the shadow of their removal from the teachers’ collective agreements.
Still despite the de rigour monthly reports sent from this school district outlining our attempts to adhere to the not very lofty standards of this bill, it never occurred to me our alternate programs are specifically excluded from the class size and composition regulations. Why didn’t I notice? Why has this not been revealed before? It is as if the staff and students of the alternate program do not exist. Yet we have in our district over 300 students in those programs with complicated needs which often translate into Individual Education Plans (IEPs) as well as those challenges teachers recognise which are not officially documented. We will not be hearing about those numbers because the ministry says we don’t have to account for them in the organisation of classes reports.
Because the hundreds of kids being educated in the alternate programs in our district are not included in the classroom reports, their teachers and support workers do not receive the slight benefit of legislative scrutiny– our self directed program at Kelsey must report but not the alternate.
The teachers union does not receive any consultation forms from the program. We know for instance in one alternate site there are 10 students with IEP’s (that is quite a bit over the three the legislation has settled for).The student numbers in alternate district wide have flourished but now I am forced to wonder why that is.
Has the alternate program become a spillway offsetting some of the insoluble class composition problems plaguing our schools as the staff struggle to meet the crappie standards Bill 33 imposes? It would be a spectacular place to shuffle kids off to since they disappear as far as legislation is concerned. I think it is time we included these details in our reports in this district regardless of the rubrics of the ministry.
And now for a bit of daylight –come to us by way of School District 27 in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
The message received is as follows:
CARIBOO-CHILCOTIN SCHOOL TRUSTEES SAY NO!
At the regular Board meeting last night, January 28 2010, the Trustees of School District 27 passed a motion to file a deficit budget! Trustee Mack stated that Trustees are entrusted with the obligation to defend and protect quality public education. With the projected cuts Mack held firm that the Board could not meet this responsibility therefore filing a deficit budget was the only option. Trustees Baker, VanOsh, and Mackenzie agreed. This motion instigated a motion to write a letter to all other districts encouraging those districts to follow suit and file a deficit budget.
This is the first board in recent memory to make such a pledge and my conversation with one of those trustees who supported this motion indicated the decision has been met with acclaim from their teachers and their community. This does not surprise me –we are now poised on the brink of a true watershed for our public schools. Now is the time…
As delighted as I am to be in the position of working to support this effort from the Cariboo here in Cowichan, it is bittersweet. This year our district Finance Committee has already endorsed -with no detail to speak of -a ministry budget model which will fortify the downward slide of our public education system. No one who voted for it even questioned its legitimacy. No figures, no documents, just a rough drawing on a white board like a nightmare version of Sesame Street. The admin placed it in front of us so it must be good. It makes perfect sense unless you actually think about it.
Boards and communities have all watched and waited as if somehow the first cuts would be the only cuts – small incremental adjustments to improve our efficiency or accommodate a global fiscal reality. We came to see the lack of dedication to public education spending as part of a swinging pendulum of social consciousness, fiscal agility and political polemic. With the old Biblical platitude “this too shall pass” we could always- in our affliction- continue to fantasize about a time when this period of curmudgeonly disregard for our own children would cease and be replaced as if by magic with generosity and civility. It should be evident to us by now there has only been a passing commitment to funding our public schools (or our health care for that matter) and from day one, it was inevitable the powerful would sweep back everything gained as quickly as they could. Not just the wild expense of the Olympics nor the relentless demands of commerce nor bizarre notions about citizen choice have shaped this – if we continue to expect ‘this too shall pass’ – the only thing which will pass is the opportunity to do something about it.
I do not believe it is too late.
Side by side with the budget process has been the finalisation of our district strategic plan. It does come across as well meaning and thoughtful and indeed, I suppose it is except for one detail – the one element which was carefully hived off from the deliberations is the lack of any prospect under the circumstances of a revenue stream which will activate it. You can view the plan on the district webpage – it is like a dream or a story which will only serve to mock us if we do not insist our expectations are realistically funded.
In any case I am no fan of the ‘student success’ concept- I think we are here to nurture something much more profound. ‘Success’ always has a competitive, self absorbed connotation to me anyway. I would have preferred to see our plan emphasise aspirations for our students like ‘wisdom, safety, freedom and happiness’ because while success is something we seek just for ourselves, the others are goals we can only attain together.
Your attendance at board meetings and the Budget Committee are critical – you can rest assured your presence is an inspiration and a hammer. Please join us for these occasions. I will keep you posted on the details and if in doubt please email me for information about them.
Our next board meeting is next Wednesday, February 17th starting at 6:30 – on that night the board will debate the recommendation from the Finance Committee endorsing the ‘bare bones’ budget model.
We need you in the room to remind us why we are there. Please…
Your Trustee Pal