Diary of a Mad Trustee Open Board Meeting January 5th 2011

 

Our Trustee Eden

Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

 Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

 

 One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. The bamboozle has captured us. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

                                                                                                                          – Carl Sagan

Something wonderful happened at last night’s board meeting – really it just made me feel proud and glad to be alive.

First – a clear motion on the agenda requesting the Transportation Safety Review Committee continue working to further the recommendations it has constructed and address the results of a DPAC survey regarding walk route safety was honoured due to the merit of the request.

 As follows:

Due to the extremely short time allotted for the work of this committee.

Due to the tight timeline for the completion, return and analysis of the DPAC walk route safety survey

Due to the confusion over the mandate of the committee in attempting to deal with efficiency and cost issues instead of focusing on the safety of the students, their families and our employees

 It is moved:

 The work of the Ad Hoc Transportation Safety Review is extended to:

 

  • Formulate suggestions for fulfilling the recommendations made in the interim report.
  • Continue to collect and analyse responses to the survey through the district website.
  • Allow further recommendations addressing the safety of students on walk routes and at pick up and drop off points which will originate from the findings of the survey.
  • Build a final report.

 Further – a poorly thought out, ‘dropped from the sky at the last minute’ motion to embroil the board in crying off to the community for more rental fees for school facilities as well as cultivating private funding sources was torn to shreds and voted down as it so richly deserved.

I feel completely secure in making this report –colossally inaccurate as it is – because reality will truck into view in no time and the fantasy will be over.

But I can dream, can’t I?

Even asking for a safety review of the new bussing model was fraught with danger because it was entirely probable it would simply allow the appearance of due diligence even if diligence -due or other wise- was unlikely. Obviously most of the committee members – bus drivers, transportation managers, parents – really wished to have the intended discussion: “How has the 20% cut in transportation funding with the attendant changes to service delivery impacted our kids’ safety?”

 However, for the most part – we were guided towards papering over the concerns and debating the inevitable and ongoing reductions to the bussing service. After all -as some observed – perhaps we can longer provide this service in light of our fiscal dilemma.

Our little venture in placing our new bussing model under the safety microscope came into the world by unanimous board motion on June 2nd 2010 but spent the first 5months of its life in a stasis chamber. The committee was marched headlong through three perfunctory meetings over the space of a month, produced recommendations few of which actually had anything to do with safety and was then concluded on the rather peculiar basis two of the participants had no further wish to attend any more meetings regarding this matter.

The final recommendations do not include any provision for actually doing anything to fulfill them in a timely way and based on the stalling already demonstrated towards convening any meetings of this committee I am less than hopeful.

 After all, we are much more concerned with the glamorous possibility of gun play in the schools than whether our kids are actually struggling down dark shoulderless roads to a bus stop as cars whiz by every single flaming day right now.

In the words of the Qualitative Breakdown derived from the DPAC Transportation Survey issued November 30th 2010

“The Cowichan Valley School District encompasses a largely rural area where roads are not built for pedestrians and vehicles travel at fast speeds on single lane windy roads with poor visibility. Changes to the District Bus Transportation System have enforced many of the walk limits and have sometimes necessitated longer walks to get to and from bus stops. Feedback from survey respondents indicates many more families are driving their children to school or bus stops because of these changes. Walk routes in many areas are deemed hazardous for children, even if accompanied by an adult.”

But – it is all about the kids. Never forget that. Now we just have to figure out who the kids are because years of experience has convinced me they can’t be those diminutive, vulnerable creatures who seem to inhabit our schools.

                                                         Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.

                                                                                                                         – Woody Allen

 The board has chosen a wooly headed project to replace the efforts of the committee meant to work for increased public funding. To meet some of our funding shortfalls which we are told will total at least $1.2 million we will crusade to empty community pockets for using their own school facilities. We are also to enter the creepy world of begging from private sources to advance our government’s bid to dodge its express responsibilities to fund our schools. How can this be a worthy activity for our board or any other? It has to be admitted – there was much more enthusiasm for this undertaking then there ever was for the work of the committee which sought increased public funding. So there!!

We are the white mice in Victoria’s little social experiment to see who will fold and start poking around for other revenue. We blinked and now some trustees who talk of ‘not saying no to money’ think we can tap into some rich vein of cash if only we approach the right people and make the right supplications.

What were we thinking? How could any of us assume the work of a trustee involved turning over every stone on behalf of our communities to compel the government to do its duty by them- shoulder to shoulder with our partners – who have by the way been rock solid in their will to do just that? Why bother when you can start criss crossing the valley looking for alms like a refugee trying to round up card board boxes to move?

Whatever effort is involved in striving together to seek what we deserve from the ministry, fighting collectively with creativity and tenacity for the revenue our kids deserve- that effort has to be far more rewarding. A few dollars doled out here and there from the well heeled will not provide the consistent, reliable resources we need and this quick fix which is neither quick nor much of fix will distract the board as well as the community from what it must really do to support public services equally for all of us. Revenue through taxation is intended to ensure equal learning opportunities for every child.

If public education is a keystone to a democratic society, this implies publicly funded schools are a critical element of that structure. Private ventures will never guarantee our system- they will only provide self interested, fly by night support as well as an  ‘out’ for a provincial government which has consistently under funded our schools.

It is reasonable to observe – if businesses and other powerful interest groups want to genuinely support our public schools they should pay their fair whack in taxes and withdraw their agenda for destroying government involvement in our lives. Then our children will not need their tawdry handouts.

Private ventures, just like school closures and public land sales, are a short sighted response which can only damage the prospects for fully funded public services. This path may provide a few individuals with a cosy chance to hobnob with the highborn or cultivate a bit of profile wheedling dosh out of businesses. It will intensify the crushing burden of fundraising among our parent volunteers while establishing the rubric private individuals must carry the weight of paying for our kids’ education while we continue to fork over vast sums of taxation to the province for god knows what.

The real solution for School Trustees is to demand full, stable funding by submitting needs budgets to the Province. Our families and employees will stand with us if we do. 

Not so long ago our board in Cowichan made newspapers all over the country for taking a position against public funding for private schools. Now we have succumbed to resignation, to a sorry sense we can’t buck the trajectory of the funding protocols. This now translates into surrendering to private solutions to shape our classrooms. This sad futile tactic provides the highest guarantee more and more of our families will migrate to the private schools. And even more public revenue will travel with them.

Of course, the jape may really be on us. According to a detailed article in the US on the topic of private incursions into funding public schools in the Wall Street Journal published last year:

‘Some educators and parents worry that schools in affluent areas have an advantage in finding private donors, exacerbating inequities in the classroom. They also fret that if schools are too successful at raising donations, lawmakers will cut their public funding even more deeply. “Legislators will begin to factor in outside donations when setting school budgets,” says Arnold Fege of the Public Education Network, which represents school-advocacy groups.’

I suppose our board is not being offered a very good example by our overseers in Victoria – we have a provincial government which evidently does not believe in government. Further, we are the victims of a gargantuan hoax,the one which maintains we cannot actually pay for our kids’ education out of the public treasury because we can’t afford it.

But I expect my colleagues to see through all this and lead with principle rather than submit to what can only be described as a classic fiddle

Your Trustee Pal

Eden

Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.

                                                                                                                         – Frederick Douglass

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