Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice
Resist the Beginning…Consider the End
If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.
– Henry David Thoreau
In the last two weeks on three separate evenings, we have had 1st reading of the cutback budget bylaw, a public meeting to present that budget to community and 2nd reading of the same budget. In addition, we have had 1st and 2nd readings of the Student Success Budget which simply documents some of the accumulated shortfall to our schools and shows a need for $15 million more than our allocation this year.
At all these meetings, trustees as well as community members have asked for information on the plans the district may have for coping with the serious adjustments cuts to many programs and services will require. Evidently trustees must first approve this budget as it stands and then perhaps the grind of reworking our methods will follow. However, the duty to endorse budget details rests entirely with trustees and trustees are accountable for the outcomes of any cutbacks –surely we should have a firm idea of what these may be.
There is no question this has been a brutal time but the real brutality is yet to come as we continue on our path to kick our students and staff to the curb. As one former trustee insisted at the public meeting – it has always been like this and it is the duty of this board to do as she did and submit to the ministry. Obviously, it has not occurred to her it has always been like this because trustees have not exercised their legitimate outrage or their power as elected reps. Senseless obedience is like a religion to some people or perhaps an involuntary reflex.
To sooth the souls of those trustees who feel bound to going along with these cuts as a matter of solemn duty, the administrators have cynically doled out a potpourris of mantras calculated to idealise their choices and elevate their purpose.
Programs evidently are ‘not working’ or ‘not efficient’ or ‘unnecessary’ or ‘not in compliance’ or ‘not mandated’ – the questions we can ask are – “How does removing resources from a program render it more effective?” How can a cutback be viewed as a means to improve anything? Just because we are not legally required to provide a service does that mean we shouldn’t bother?”
Trustees have stated simply they have no way of being certain submitting a full funding budget which contravenes section 111 of the School Act will change anything for the better. This is the contradiction of the year -as they are prepared to sign into law a budget around which there is nothing but uncertainty.
So this has been a bit of a voyage of discovery – the things we don’t know counter posed by the things we have learned.
We don’t know what bussing will look like with the loss of 20 % of the transportation budget including 9 drivers and their routes.
We don’t know where one half of our alternate education students now deemed not in compliance for attending this program will go and how they will be supported in the mainstream schools.
We don’t know how children with intensive behaviours will be accommodated in the schools which are losing their IBIT program.
We don’t know how we will manage without the Substance Abuse Program which allows students suspended from class due to violations to get the counseling required to allow them back into school.
We don’t know what the health and safety implications will be for the increased areas and loss of any detailed cleaning in our schools with a further cut to our custodial staff (3.4 FTE) and cuts to the weeks of work for those who will remain (7 weeks).
We really don’t know how our teachers and EAs will cope with a whole range of challenges and behaviours now being redirected into their classrooms without the resources to support these kids.
Well it goes on of course – at 2nd reading we raised the 5 day cut to instruction and the failure to follow the new and neutered bylaw governing the process for employing a school calendar which differs from the standard calendar. You would think we could manage to follow something as undemanding and lax but we have not and now I would like to know how we can approve the cut and include it in our budget.
As a board, we have said we would like to hear from our community. We have but as usual the people who attend meetings, keep up with budget developments, care about the system and oppose the dismantlement of our public school environments are viewed as unreliable particularly if they work for the district or fail to appreciate the value of repetitive strategies which never bear fruit. The opinions of those who never turn up are a matter of speculation but romanticised as more sensible and moderate.
I suppose it must occur to many of us this is part of an arc which may be almost complete. While our district managers seem to have very few models for retooling after the cuts, my bet is they have careful objectives for next year and the cuts to come. Somewhere in those designs is reconfiguration and school closure – along with final dissolution of our alternate program, further bussing reductions and moves to privatise cleaning and maintenance.
What have I learned this round of cuts?
It has been made fiercely obvious our school districts are here not to raise a generation of educated, thoughtful citizens but to provide our ministry with data. Our senior staff spends a substantial amount of time building reports to the province concerning learning progress and grad rates based on testing and stats. This is the work of the ministry not the work which serves our students especially as there have been no sustained improvements in learning or grad rates -those could only be affected by well resourced classrooms. Our education leaders’ time should be entirely devoted to our kids’ learning and the wellbeing of our staff – not the mechanics of graphs, charts and numerical tracking for a heartless ministry.
We, as a district, must pay these people to perform these duties on behalf of the government out of our steadily diminishing resources and we are told their tasks cannot be triaged out of existence, as is the case with all other functions in our schools. While services to kids can go and teachers and support people struggle under increasing workloads and dwindling expectations , the reports, data collection, imposed budgets and adversarial labour management conditions must live on. It might have been appropriate if the senior managers in our province along with their professional organisations had stood with the rest of us in demanding a full commitment to public education; their voices are by far the most influential. This would have been and still could be a very honourable and productive use of their time and effort. But as their role is to execute and smooth the downward slide of our system, they are- by government reckoning- the most valuable component of the school community – as a result, no matter what happens they will be safe as houses.
So – 3rd reading looms. Wednesday May 19th it will all be a done deal – what will remain is our obligation to teach all our kids and care for our schools with much less. Right now in our valley there are long time teachers and support workers who are experiencing a terrible crushing sadness as they watch the labours of a lifetime and the advances of generations abandoned; their carefully crafted programs gutted, their work and dedication trivialised by neglect.
It is personal. It is bloody. And these are the only things which identify this budget process as human.
Your Trustee Pal