Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice
Resist the Beginning…Consider the End
I don’t usually make the classic error of speaking to the unmovable people at the top of the heap. I have found it is a waste of time, vigour and thought. However, as the Minister of Education has chosen to interpret the posting of compliance budgets galore from all our school districts in BC as evidence we are taking care of our kids, I will make an exception to an otherwise sterling rule.
Galling isn’t it? We have been telling trustees for years if they file cutback budgets this action effectively says the funding is more or less in line with needs. School Boards slash and burn and hang on to a few miserable kopeks in case of dire emergencies and find themselves- after all this- hauled up in front of the Leg by a bunch of extremist carnivores as fine examples of what a far out job the ministry is doing funding public education. Even when boards submit these sad ass needs budgets in tandem, they get lost in the shuffle. No one in government reads the fine print documenting the brutal experience in our districts once the budget is passed and sent off to the ministry – evidently, ministerial staff don’t pour over our Student Success Budget crying out in alarm over the discrepancy between what they supply and what we clearly need.
For boards, the message is plain – You pass it; you wear it. What is worse- you become the poster child for the ministry propaganda machine – smiling eerily with the broken programs and rapidly unwinding services lying off to one side in a smoking heap no one can see due to clever photography.
So this one’s for you Minister Dr. Mac Diarmid – drilling down for $3 million in cuts has taken its toll on our valley schools and trustees just so you can bay about the successful completion of yet another budget which meets the threats of section 111 of the School Act but little else.
Dear Ms. MacDiarmid:
“We passed 3rd reading of the cutback budget last Wednesday in an open meeting at Quamichan School. We also passed something we like to call our Student Success Budget which features a measured account of the funding we would need to weave an excellent learning and working environment after years of underfunding. Our board even decided to send you our Student Success Budget first- hoping you might give it a passing glance before slipping it into the bottom of a parrot cage undistracted by the warmth of the compliance budget. That one will arrive to be sure and no later than June 15th – so don’t worry. We are sure you will be delighted with our handiwork.
Out of the $3 million shortfall you have imposed this year, we have ripped almost $1.9 million from programs and services which directly affect the learning environment in our schools.
Our alternate program, our intensive behaviour programs in three schools, student achievement teaching time, custodial services and bussing, took the biggest hits. To bring our budget in line with your parameters we have for the second year in a row imposed a 5 day cut to instruction.
We are cutting $337,502 from our alternate program based on complying with a complete revision of the role of alternate education originating from your ministry. Something tells me no one actually bothered to seek the counsel of people who support and understand the role of alternate programs. This has nothing to do with caring for the learning needs of those kids who have great barriers in their lives – it is just about making this system smaller, less responsive and more industrial. In the era of data and grad rate worship, kids with challenges are not a priority. And this budget makes that crystal clear. We may as well hand out colourful brochures to all our ‘at risk’ children telling them to bugger off. Except of course, we can’t afford the printing costs.
We have removed the intensive behaviour programs in three district schools. The kids who need this crucial level of engagement will now be tossed back into the regular classroom – and we don’t have the resources to meet the compositions as it is. But what the hell – it will save us $196,783.
As it stands, we have cut a big chunk of our student achievement time for a grand savings of $89,332. Supplemental staffing will now be reduced at Alexander, Koksilah and Quamichan Schools and will be eliminated at Cowichan Secondary.
Generally, this nurtures small group learning – vital to those kids who need just that bit more to succeed. They flourish in these environments. We can now experiment further on how they will manage without it.
Over the last few years custodians had their cleaning areas increased by about 25% and lost half the summer cleanup time – now we have cut more custodians as well as the time the surviving staff have over the year to complete their work.
Parents and teaching staff have long observed the deterioration in our school cleanliness despite the best efforts of these people. The schools are not as clean as once they were and our custodians are run ragged trying to maintain standards. Somehow, the environments in which our children spend their days receive little thought when we are tearing through the sofa cushions to find your money.
The health and safety of our kids and staff are placed in further jeopardy but we did save$355,355.
Cowichan School District operates the largest transportation system in our valley and as we are a far flung, spread out area, we need it. In this time of climate charters, peak oil, environmental degradation, monitoring of the carbon footprint and green house gas emissions we should be celebrating this feature of our service. Instead, bussing is seen as a frivolous ritual no one really needs.
Our senior staff does not know exactly how the loss of nine bus drivers and their routes will translate into a useful plan to get all our kids safely to school and home again. But this is not about service or effectiveness – it is about the power to redirect the accumulated public assets of communities into private oblivion. But then you must already know that since you have co-signed the projection for public education funding through to 2013. It appears transporting our kids is a luxury we can’t afford. The principle behind our superb bussing is safety, equality of access and encouragement of attendance. This year we have carved away 20% of the transportation budget – $318,568. I wonder what next year holds.
Finally – the 5 day cut will bring a harvest of $268,000 to this district at a cost to our least well paid employees and the families who must meet added child care costs or just stay home from work – not to mention loss of teaching time for the kids. I have to congratulate the great thinkers who conjured this up –a crushing affirmation of the destiny our public schools are facing – shrink and shrivel but at least for now we can cash in the weeks of instruction at a quarter of a million dollars a crack as long as we add a few nanoseconds to each day to compensate. Seriously – it is effortless to balance the budget if you don’t provide the service and that is what we are doing. And we were so damn determined to meet the rigours of your bottom line we did not even bother to follow our School Calendar Bylaw #4 which itself derives from the BC School Act. I guess some laws are more equal than others.
During the 2nd reading, the board majority amended the budget and threw our Substance Intervention Program/Counselor under the bus. This freed up $35,000 for other district needs no doubt very deserving however – should any of our kids run a foul of our zero tolerance district Substance Abuse Policy #5120 they must become involved with counseling and treatment before being allowed back in school. The good folks at the Employee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP) have offered this service to our students so they can return to school and get the help they need within days of being suspended for a substance offence. There are very limited options other than this program and those that do exist have long waiting lists.
So we have balanced our budget by cutting lose our troubled youngsters in every way it is possible to do this while piously hanging on to our strict codes of discipline.
So Minister… please don’t cheerlead for your government because boards have managed to complete the budget process on time and within the money margin – it was easy, you see. You have wisely secured the services of a well paid loyal coterie of professionals in each district unswervingly devoted to dialing back public education on behalf of your ministry and the Treasury Board. They have performed as required and the elected people have come off like chumps. Further, it is just bad manners to force feed trustees on threats of firing for failing to balance their budgets and then attribute their acquiescence to a victorious moment of public education solvency.
Let’s not kid anyone – this time- consuming yearly torment is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice.
You have extracted your balanced budgets from the hides of our communities.
And we have never felt so bankrupt.
And everybody knows…”
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Lyric: Leonard Cohen
School Trustee in Cowichan