Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice
Resist the Beginning…Consider the End
This is the next in a series of entirely unauthorised reports from this trustee on board meetings. If this email has made its way into your computer and you are dismayed please accept my apologies and hit the delete key, which is of course what the delete key is for – that and the little known death ray function when the caps lock is activated. (Only for workplace deployment). I undertake to comment publicly on public matters but of course, this is not in any way intended to reflect the views of the school board. Any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
I used to wonder why the government decided to enact Bill 33 – after all, it was doomed to be a spectacular failure for our kids and teachers; it would also confirm the irresponsible nature of Victoria’s approach to classroom learning conditions.
However, as the years have passed the real accomplishment of this legislation now becomes clear. Bill 33 has certainly done its job – finding irrelevant work for educators who now spend countless hours each month- which would otherwise be devoted to our students- cataloging the inevitable distress found in our classrooms. If the government had simply made a rude gesture and told everyone they had no plans to accommodate the needs of kids that would have at least been honest and a real time saver. But in their zeal to look like a Ministry of Education as opposed to a Ministry of Feudal Superstition, they have imposed a structure which not only withholds resources, it demands what little resources we have must be scooped for paper documentation of crimes against kids. If you need a really depressing/bewildering read, try section 76.1 through 76.8 of the BC School Act to savour the language which addresses this matter – written by someone I never want to meet in low light without bear spray.
Dial back to the period prior to January 27th 2002- when the provisions concerning non-enrolling teachers, class size and composition as well as the language governing the inclusion of students with special needs resided within the collective agreement between the employer and the BCTF.
The public saw little of the expert process our districts followed because the teachers, their union and management dealt with these standards within the confines of their labour /management relations. However, the government removed all references to learning conditions from the contract and began to design legislation which would regulate class size and composition outside that format.
In May 2006, Bill 33, the Education (Learning Enhancement – no shit that is what they actually call it) Statutes Amendment Act, passed into law. Among other things, Bill 33 sets out specific instructions for the integration of students with special needs into classrooms from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Suddenly the structure of our classes became a matter of wider comment. Since that time, the reality of enforced scarcity and persistent degradation of our classrooms has been driven home. This has normalised the enduring tear down of our public system – a toxic overlay of defeat and futility has been seemingly set in stone.
In Cowichan this month we have fully 227 classes which contravene the sadly inadequate standards set by Bill 33.So out of about 1200 classes in our district ( December 2009 it was 1202) over 20% fail to meet these timid benchmarks . It would be bad enough if most educators as well as trustees were not completely aware many students are functioning in a grey zone – not designated for an IEP, not likely to qualify even if assessed but in need just the same. Whether a teacher has formal documents establishing some of their kids require particular attention for learning issues, they are painfully aware many of their students require an individual education plan to provide the learning opportunities all kids deserve.
Though the Organisation of Classes Report must be presented and submitted to the ministry by every district each month during the school year, once a year- in October- trustees are asked to ‘accept’ this document just to highlight our unperturbed loyalty to the Ministry. Apparently, superintendents and principals cannot reject the conditions they observe no matter what the teachers may declare during consultation – they must uphold whatever heinous environment exists in their schools and districts. I am not sure what dreadful penalty would follow if they did complain and frankly, any educator worth their salt would be able to find the courage to speak up regardless. At the very least, you would think they would grumble publicly about the unending and inane ritual now played out in our schools because of Bill 33.All that paperwork, all those meetings meant not to assess and improve but to accentuate the power of the ministry to enforce deteriorating standards. However, as trustees, we could take this precious opportunity to emphasise our outrage, our tiresome letters and our grief over the cruel inadequacies for which we are liable with an actual gesture of our own. Without fear of any physical harm or discomfort to our invisible careers, trustees could support our students, teachers, principals and superintendents by rejecting these class sizes and compositions. The cost to us is nothing; the message is priceless. This night yet again, we did not do this – but 4 out of the 9 voted to say what everyone in the district already knows – this cannot stand.
What could possibly justify this feeble decision? Fear of a flying squad from the ministry? What would scare you more – a gaggle of tightasses with clipboards and Blackberries from Victoria or 8000 kids not receiving the education they deserve?
For the record – section 76.2 (b) in the School Act requires principals to consult with their School Planning Council before submitting their report to the superintendent indicating their organisation of classes are appropriate for student learning. Section 76.3(6) requires the superintendent to send the October report not only to the board but to the DPAC as well; parents can and must play their part by demanding all educators and elected representatives stand up to this bureaucratic nightmare. A good start would be to question and protest the conditions outlined in the reports placed in front of them. Those reports speak to the day to day experience our kids are having in school.
Next up – the amazing, tiny yet disappearing budget surplus!
It was like Xmas – the agenda foretold we would sit together and splash out with the $36,000 we had left to spread around the district. Not a princely sum but we could no doubt spring for a mitt full of lottery tickets and a slurpy. I was in favour of buying genitalia- shaped ice cube molds for our more formal events.
But tragically, Xmas quickly turned into Black Tuesday when we discovered we were in fact $127,000 in the hole. Nothing like a bleak portrayal of our finances to back drop the roll up to budget time .I guess all those judicious surgical moves in the last budget round were not as helpful as we might have hoped – after all if we make the correct cuts, the appropriate closures we should achieve perfect harmony between revenue and expenditure. Trustees will just have to keep guessing until they get it right. I think after all the grinding panic and alarm of last spring we should have had some quiet time and we still could.
The senior staff has generously offered to come up with their suggestions for some cuts which will bring us back into the black. In the absence of their advice, I have a few thoughts of my own.
To cover off the shortfall I suggest the following:
- Co-ed bathrooms and plastic on all the furniture to save custodial time
- A Compulsory Daily Draw to determine which car in the parking lot will be sold for the revenue
- Turn off the heat
- Close down the schools during any month which does not have an “L” in the name
- Offer selected school sites for storing depleted uranium
- Charge a healthy fee to any delegation
- Have the Grade 12 Graphics class take up currency design and reproduction as part of their portfolio requirements
- Grow something more lucrative than lettuce in the Alternate Ed greenhouse
Of course we could have a wee glance at some of the suggestions the partner groups made during the last spaghetti western – cuts to BCeSIS, cell phone expenses, travel and event costs, admin professional development not to mention the culling of senior staff – the only ones left among our employees who have not had to double down to accommodate the loss of positions.
Mmmm…I wonder how many senior staff we had when there were more kids in the schools since apparently all we are meant to care about are the kids who are not there.
In conclusion, a self indulgent reflection- Life is tough and there are no end of reasons we can find to retreat alone into resignation. No one is immune to this. You cannot live through the demands of existence without falling into disillusionment and cynicism unless you are open to inspiration –the one great thing which raises you above personal misery, above self, above all kinds of excuses for acquiescence.
No matter how inconvenient it may be to share common cause, it is much more inconvenient to live with the consequences of not doing so.
Ask anyone who has wished they were granted a second chance to make that choice.
Your Trustee Pal