Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice
Resist the Beginning…Consider the End
Once upon a time there was a middle school with almost 6oo kids within its walls. As you might expect there were many heartening events there but despite the best efforts of the teachers, parents and support workers they did not have nearly enough teaching and education assistant time to allow the students and staff to truly flourish.
This was due to the tragic fact the provincial government who collected all the taxes and was responsible for funding all the schools were too busy spending that money on ski trips, Botox treatments and nuclear weapons which everyone agreed was a waste of resources.
Every day was a grinding challenge made all the worse because no matter what the staff and parents did or said they were summarily told to piss off and stop whining .After all – the cry came back from the managers and administrators– there is no money, there is no solution so best to stay calm, carry on and keep schtum. If we had more kids we would have more money but alas we have fewer kids so obviously we must punish those who remain.
But not everyone thought this was such a good idea since as the days turned into months and even years nothing improved and the children wound down their time in the school under the shadow of poor conditions and poorer prospects for the rest of their learning lives. So the parents cried out to the school district, they even tried to come before the hallowed presence of the trustees and were turned away. The staff wrote messages and arranged meetings with those who could help them but to no avail.
The school year was nearly over – only 11 weeks to go and trustees having finally through the resolve of the teachers been made aware of the situation rose to the occasion and voted to spend a very tiny sum of money- just sitting around doing nothing- on more time for the education assistants so the kids could be better taught and cared for as anyone would expect.
I am glad to say this is a true tale from one of our middle schools and I salute the staff and parents who never gave up. There are experts (like teachers, EA’s and parents) out there who do care about the conditions in our schools and if we listen to them more often, we will do a much better job of being trustees and managing the district. No one should ever be permitted to stand between the school community and their elected reps– not ever. I fully expect to hear a more extrovert message from other schools in our district suffering under the same circumstances.
The board rooms lately have been quite packed – you would think Jamie Oliver was about to show everyone how to make a beef tagine or a seafood paella. Instead, people are willing to park it in the board room and listen while trustees try to care for the interests of a school district which like every district in this province is in decline and distress.
This is a fine development – and it is inspiring to know people do care enough to put themselves out a bit and spend time becoming familiar with the landscape of our politics and our dilemmas. I have been told it is a bit addictive like a particularly horrifying soap opera – but without the guns, nudity (there is a God after all), secret pregnancies and obscene material consumption.
As you no doubt already know several trustees will be meeting with the Minister of Education, Margaret MacDiarmid on April 20th (just for my own amusement and because it is true I keep reminding everyone this is Hitler’s birthday – maybe there will be punch and pie). We have devised a somewhat facile and bland message to take to her which will not absorb much of her precious time as she has only allotted 45 minutes I believe and at least some of this will be taken up in introductions and seating arrangements. Seems the three priorities we are hitting her with – we will be sneaking up with our own brand of surprising insight into the mind of the minster- are a new school at the Lake, more funding for Aboriginal Education (sigh – does this mean we want more money to spend on core needs while forgetting it is supposed to be exclusively for enhanced Native education?) and increased funding in general. I suppose it might make sense to ask ourselves exactly what we imagine this will accomplish. We are approaching this woman as if she is a dolt who along with her colleagues has triggered a whole series of unanticipated outcomes by strangling the lifeblood out of our schools. I would imagine the lucky few will get a ramped up motivational harangue which will drive them panic stricken to their cars while their ears bleed.
A small adjustment has been made to the message by the recent addition submitted by the District Funding Sub Committee of more detail around funding and a specific request to temporarily remove the demon Section 111 in the School Act which prohibits the filing of a deficit budget by school boards – through board motion (see below).
The District Funding Sub Committee recommends the Board of Education shapes its message as follows:
Call for an immediate funding increase for the Budget year 2010/2011 which will provide for:
- Full day Kindergarten
- Unfunded Employee Liability costs(GAAP)
- All employee cost increases– MSP and pension
- BCeSIS costs
- All AFG funding(removing the stipulation this grant must now pay for building envelope work) including the return of the AFG for the 2009/2010 year
- Funding to meet the expectations of the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council:
1. Expanding Hwulmuhw (Native) language and cultural programs
2. Increasing educational supports for Hwulmuhw students and families
3. Establishing equal hiring practices and outcomes in all school district occupations
- Full provision for Bill 33 benchmarks removing all violations in this district/funding for reporting costs
- Funding to eliminate wait lists for special needs evaluations/full funding for the services triggered by designations/funding for increased Learning Assessment Program/funding to support the needs of gray area students
- Full funding to cover realistic inflation for goods, services and fuel
- Full funding to suitably care for the cleanliness, repair and improvements of our school district buildings
- Full funding to operate a reliable, free and sustainable transportation service for our students
- Full funding for all Early learning, literacy programs as well as full time librarian services in each school
- Full funding to sustain our alternate ,adult education and intensive behaviour programs
And further if the government allocation cannot be increased to meet this call–to then seek from the Minister the temporary suspension of Section 111 of the School Act which reads, “Estimated expenditures in the annual budget must not exceed estimated revenues” in order to permit the filing of a deficit budget by schools districts in BC without violating the School Act.
See – first, we give the minister the chance to do the right thing -which is fair. However, in the likely absence of any satisfactory response we ask for some breathing room. It is bad faith after all to have a dictat in legislation which enforces the neglect of our responsibilities as trustees so it seems fair this piece of law be set aside so we can do right by both our community and the Act under which the school system is arranged.
So off to the ministry three trustees will go – and hopefully they will leave a trail of bread crumbs and get out before night fall. God have mercy on their souls which I understand are in short supply within the walls of the Leg.
So as we struggle over the budget and try to increase the likelihood we will challenge the ministry rather than conform to this cruel program of poverty and humiliation it is important to remember – the only real prospect for holding the ministry accountable rests with holding trustees accountable. We can point at the province all we like and blame their vile practices for our troubles but trustees are the only ones who can actually make a decision which will echo – this should be viewed as a privilege and an honour not a burden or a chore. We are the lucky ones who get to choose.
Everyone else is waiting for us to boldly bring this matter to the attention of the government vigorously and lead rather than just wring our hands.
There are of course consequences to any decision – and no festivity in either case. However, by filing a full funding budget, we will be ushering in a different world where we may be able to renew our commitment to our kids. It will only be the beginning. We have to let the government know we are onto them and unwilling to be their shock troops any longer.
Your Trustee Pal
Yes, buddies the rumour is true – the Finance Committee has moved to abandon the effort to create an obedience budget. On April 14th, partners representing the Cowichan District Teachers Association (CDTA), Lake Cowichan Teachers Association (LCTA), CUPE 606, USW 1-80, the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council as well as 4 trustees placed their own set of guidelines before that committee in the form of a motion.
The intention was to fully reveal the principles and directives these groups and individuals would be operating under as the budget process unfolded. This was meant to drive home the message they would not be participating in fighting among themselves to save one program at the expense of another and are unwilling to be tasked with dismantling public education.
The motion read:
That no cuts will be considered in this process which will negatively impact the following areas of district needs:
- Classroom conditions
- Aboriginal Education
- Instruction Time
- Vulnerable Students
- Care of Facilities
- Health and Safety
The motion carried in a close vote. A motion was then tendered indicating the Committee would be unable to build a compliance budget for the 2010-2011 year. It is worth noting the majority of the areas designated to be reviewed for cuts fell within the parameters of this list.
In my view, this is not an exercise in building a budget – it is a process of abuse, humiliation for all partners and a coded request to beat each other senseless in pursuit of our separate interests. I am proud to stand with the people who refused.