Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice
Resist the Beginning…Consider the End
I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.
– Jonathan Swift
In a report or two ago I lamented the sad coincidence between the compliance of boards in passing calamitous budgets and the assertion by our Minister this was an indicator school districts in BC had plenty of funding to do their job.
This – no doubt- is why there is an entire office in her ministry devoted to designing creative programs and services to download onto school districts without attendant funding. This year, boards in BC can look forward to supplying the alien transmat technology required for molecular relocation as well as the means to build capacity in our students for raising the dead and cloning celebrities. Somehow, we will find a way to pay for all of this even if it means scrapping the out of date K-12 programs and shutting every public school in the valley except the one with the biomedical research lab.
Despite her congratulations at the time, we have had to endure a contradictory message through the ‘Report on the Vancouver School Board’ released earlier this month which describes that board and by implication, all boards in BC as incompetent whiners incapable of performing their tasks as required.
No wonder many of us are too confused to even feel insulted.
What are the duties of trustees as officers ruled by the School Act and as elected representatives of our communities?
This report has issued a challenge to all 420 trustees in this province by cracking the whip over the Vancouver School Board’s head. The Minister is making an example of the VSB primarily to strike fear in all our hearts.
Since elected, I have been instructed by senior staff on my meagre role as a trustee – I have been reprimanded for visiting schools, scolded for raising concerns with managers, chastised for talking to employees and warned against being politically active. ‘Playing with the trains’ is the favoured critique from administrators to any trustee who responds to their duties according to their own conscience and understanding.
In one breath the recommendations in the report demand trustees cease their interference in the management of their district and in the next trustees must be managers above all else. On one hand we are instructed to fulfill ‘stewardship responsibilities’ and on the other to stop all this advocacy nonsense.
Clearly, trustees direct nothing and are viewed by the management as a temporary inconvenience until the world can right itself and turn back the loathsome tide of community interference in the business of government. Yet – the government- in this report- chides the VSB for acting not as managers but as advocates. The arrogance of the top dogs is so pervasive they do not even feel the need to get their story straight. And if we are meant neither to direct district activities in any meaningful way nor to vocalise the interests of our families and employees then what is our job description? I believe the report is being deliberately obscure and paradoxical in order to allow unrestricted latitude in demeaning the people who are chosen in elections.
Just like the hospital boards- not perfect- but at least elected to be charged with the operations of the hospitals, our school boards are scheduled for deletion so Victoria can appoint their own reliable acolytes to the task of stick handling the devolution of public education.
This report demands the VSB charge more for community use of facilities (up to 700% more), squeeze their unionised employees for concessions, close schools and stop providing services and programs the ministry regards as surplus to requirements like inner city junior kindergartens.
Perhaps most troubling is the recommendation to save money by curtailing participatory forms of democratic partner involvement on board committees. The report complains (whines?) about the tragic cost of staff support for all these damnable meetings – a cost we could all do without once we recognise the inherent superiority of bargain basement despotism.
Despite the contention the board in Vancouver(and by extension all boards) is wasting money heaping privileges on students and employees as well as hanging on to neighbourhood schools and some semblance of democracy, the report orders outside hires be used to fiddle with governance structures and supply special knowledge in the financial realm. So while the comptroller general is collapsing in grief over the use of public funds to support embracing broad based community inclusion in board decisions, she is determined to see this money used to engage private consultants as experts in endangering democracy and spinning funding inadequacies.
Why enjoy the wisdom of your community for free when you can pay a carefully chosen toady a small fortune to get the answers the ministry really wants?
As July is Achievement Contract Month, it is worthwhile noting recommendation 13 in the report seeks to link the ever diminishing resources school districts enjoy with the outcomes in the stats. Nowhere in this report or anywhere else I am aware of does the ministry ever reflect on their responsibilities to our kids or their own role in reducing the funds to such an extent we are hard pressed to meet their lofty benchmarks. But then – outcomes and consequences are only for the lower orders.
A better title for the ‘Report on the Vancouver School Board’ would be ‘Chutzpah R Us’ since in no way does the report place any weight on the antics of the ministry charged as they are with providing the needed funds and yet failing to do so. All the problems which relate to funding shortfalls are attributed to the failings of the VSB and for the most part blame their stubborn attempts to represent their constituents for their difficulties. Despite the stated focus of the report on the fiscal obstacles the VSB have in meeting mandates under this regime, 26 of the 42 recommendations contain no budget implications and 8 seek the services of outside hires which would mean carving more funding away from student needs.
The second recommendation seeks a review of the current co governance model to ensure it is meeting the needs of the public education system. This is a real howler since co- governance suggests some sort of collegial relationship marked by equality and respect. And while it is a fact the Ministry of Education and schools boards are the two key legal bodies charged with managing the public school system in BC, school boards can and often do set much higher standards for governance then the example set for them by their unsympathetic and bad-mannered partner in Victoria. This is certainly true of the Vancouver School Board.
The provincial government is very kind to allow boards to provide a beard for ministry disregard for our schools and the relentless chaos their spontaneous underfunding pronouncements inflict-that is their idea of co-governance. Boards can ask for help; they can try to make their troubles clear to the minister but this whole business with VSB tells you if you are unwise enough to make eye contact, you will regret it – a familiar case of “Stop Crying Or We Will Give You Something To Cry About”.
We should review the co governance model but unless you think thumb screws and getting whacked with a plank are a coded request for consensus we may be wasting our time.
Tonight in this meeting, our board fashioned a longish motion supporting the Vancouver School Board relying on the wording in a Saanich board motion – a fine thing but we need a bigger gesture in the face of this sustained attack on the elected school boards of BC. However, the reaction of boards in general has been disappointing and the BCSTA has delivered only a very bland and cautious response to the report. I would have hoped for more. Boards should be on their hind legs defending their colleagues in Vancouver with a thunderous roar; they should also be more forceful in their demands for fairness and accuracy from the folks they apparently co govern with.
The arrival in Vancouver of an accountant from the Ministry of Finance with no background in education to read the riot act and set the board straight is rather like employing a cockroach to stave off infestation. The big boys have long since decided public education is for sissies – what chance was there that a paid up member of their club would seriously and independently evaluate the situation in favour of the board, all boards and our public schools?
Ultimately – we have no answers to the perfectly sensible question – If the Province is funding Public Education adequately then why are the conditions in our classrooms deteriorating? Frankly, it seems unlikely the inconsequential school boards in BC are the problem.
Take a moment and send a message off to Patti Bacchus and her allies. You will find her email address at the end of this report.
I am sure she would appreciate hearing from you. Right now, they are on the front line but all trustees are in the crosshairs of this churlish and petty minded government.
And if we are – your beloved neighbourhood school is too.
Your Trustee Pal