Diary of a Mad Trustee November 3rd 2010 Open Board Meeting

 

Our Trustee Eden

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.

It took a mighty exertion at the board table over a couple of years to even secure the District Funding Sub Committee – created ‘to develop strategies to increase the level of public funding’ as outlined in one of our  school district’s guiding budget principles. Scrapping the committee took much less time and effort.

Its dark passing does however provide an opportunity to reflect on the benefits of public provision over private.

It would be generous to say the review ostensibly initiated last spring to assess the effectiveness of this committee’s work was intended to be objective and thoughtful – as opposed to being merely a formal means to stifle the input of the people on that committee frowned on by some senior staff and board members. In the name of the ministry, School Districts including this one, relentlessly assess our children and impose all manner of standards by which we measure their success in learning. However – much of our district practice remains carefully sheltered from ever being appraised and if it does by chance occur, it is safe to say nothing will come of it.

So I suppose you could say the innovation of seeking an evaluation of this committee has set an interesting precedent – perhaps one which will in time allow some scrutiny over other areas of district function. I am not going to hold my breath and I don’t recommend you do either.

 Ironically – the review found no fault with the committee so -as you would expect- it was discarded gracelessly and without any appreciation for its work. I hate to think what would have happened if it had been found wanting  –  the subject of an all points bulletin, a hard target search to keep the committee from drinking everyone’s beer, making inappropriate sexual advances, spreading the parvo virus, causing universal hard drive failure and finally creating a global axis shift. Thank god, we got to it in time.

One of the motivations for shutting down this committee was the very mandate upon which it was founded. Board members may have become disenchanted with the promise of public funding or pessimistic about the prospects for such a thing or keen to cultivate private solutions for resourcing our schools – who can say?

However, there does seem to be an appetite to explore ways to further support our schools through fundraising, business plans and greater reliance on charity. We will be polishing up our begging bowls and crying off to the community to pay again for a school system their taxes are meant to support. In fact, the emphasis in the Education Funding section of our District Strategic Action Plan is centred on these desperate measures. I do wonder if all our efforts to find private subsidies for our schools will end up with some comedian from the ministry noticing and revising our funding formula to retrieve the revenue accumulated by our ill considered efforts. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the cajones? But you can’t deny it is a distinct possibility.

The threats to the future of public education in Canada are, at this time, predominately due to domestic privatization initiatives. Although it may be difficult to completely eradicate privatization initiatives within school systems, at the very least, parameters must be established to reign in a malignant cancer that threatens the cornerstone of a democratic society – equitable, publicly funded education.

The political will to do so is currently absent. It is imperative that Canadians wake up and demand that governments at all levels respect the core principles that are the foundation of public education. Sustained political pressure is required to reverse the trend to privatization.

 The combination of financial difficulties caused by government under-funding of education increases school vulnerability to commercial influences, as does the debate between proponents of education as a social right and those who define it as a marketable commodity subject to international trade rules and agreements.

 -Canadian Teachers Federation

 

It is shameful we wish to further burden our parents with more fundraising already vital for core items (software, supplies, furniture, books, shop equipment, computers, playgrounds just to mention a few). Our parents have an important role to play in guiding their kids’ learning and in the governance of our districts – yet in most cases, parents and their PACs are seen as little more than cash cows for the myriad inadequacies engendered by our slashed public funding. It is inappropriate our support staff must perform unpaid work just to meet their obligations to the kids and our teachers must supply their classrooms from their own pockets. It is just plain wrong we are contemplating increasing rentals to community for schools they own in common.

And frankly – schools should stay out of business schemes of any sort. Not only is it unseemly- we just are not very good at it and if you don’t believe me look at the history of those undertakings. Remember the hockey school or the short lived franchise in China. If senior staff hanker after the rigours of cowboy commercialism they should leave their positions and take up full time venture capitalism as a way of life. I think they would be back here in big hurry.

Worst of all – any private source will always intensify unfairness. The whole point of a public service is to provide crucial benefits equally to all of us based on need and not on ability to pay. The point of ‘increasing public funding’ for our schools is to defend everyone’s right to high quality education regardless of their origins, income, and family background.

In BC more and more, the quality of any child’s education is a reflection of their family’s ability to pay. Obviously – we could just throw up our hands and decide to abandon our sensibilities regarding equal access for all. The quaint practice of paying for our school system out of the public treasury does entail some sacrifice for the well heeled. Certainly –  there are small sectors of our communities which can overcome funding shortfalls by throwing yacht club galas, asking for donations from individuals and businesses – confirming private solutions to government neglect ahead of standing with their neighbours to demand what we all deserve. The rich can bail on the rest of us and sort it out to their own isolated advantage. And of course, there is always the escape hatch to private schools for some kids.

 Let us never forget all private solutions tend to exclude and those doling out money under these sad circumstances probably have intentions and agendas divergent from simply providing learning opportunities for everyone. Which school, which program, which service, which group of students? Their largesse will come with strings and demands to hone the school environment according to their view and self interest.

Private Funding – The Bottom Line

  • Inequity: Some schools and school communities have varying degrees of capacity to fundraise and otherwise attract outside funding.
  • Competition: Relying on private donors may create competition among programs and schools, as different institutions chase the same sources of funds.
  • Targeting: Relying on private sources, through fundraising or corporate donations, allows those private sources, rather than schools and school boards, to make decisions on programs deemed more “worthy” of support.
  • Conditional funding: Some private donors may attach strings – an advertising requirement, or the inclusion of certain students and the exclusion of others, or the use of specific curriculum – to their funding for public education.
  • Selective funding: An increasing number of items, such as playground equipment, field trips, and even some classroom and learning resources, are being defined as “frills” outside of government funding.
  • Unstable funding: Many private sources of funding do not make commitments to provide the resources over any extended period, particularly in times of economic instability.
  • Lack of educational quality control: Who ensures  the curriculum/classroom materials being provided to schools by business sources are unbiased, complete, and accurate?

The loss of one little school district committee is not catastrophic and in the long run will barely be noticed. But it is being tossed under the bus as a testament to an accelerated march away from public resourcing and towards encouraging those who can fly highest to leave the rest behind.

 It is tempting to hope those who are flapping around looking for charity and business plans are just desperate on behalf of the kids. However, it is also possible they do not support the premise of public spending for services even if it means relegating many of our kids to reduced opportunities.

I will not miss the work of this committee because its work will continue under other incarnations. Despite the obvious domination by views which oppose social spending, most people understand the justice and fairness of caring for our students collectively and there are many who will work to uphold those glorious principles.

 There is no excuse for anyone to settle for bankrolling our schools through intrusive handouts as well as demands on the wallets of our employees and families. Most of us have demonstrated beyond question we are happy to pay into the common pot for all our kids.

Still –some boards are opting for dependence on donations and commerce when these sources will not only fail to solve our funding problems – they will inevitably aggravate them.

The question to be answered now:  Why are we giving up so easily?

Your Trustee Pal

Eden

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

 – Jane Addams (1860-1935) 

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