Diary of a Mad Trustee Open Board Meeting November 16th 2011

 Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

                                       Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

 

This meeting was the last of the old board and as such was fairly tranquil – many of us were reflecting on those who were leaving for good after many years of service and the changes to come if the election should grant the opportunity.

Trustees enjoyed a very endearing slide show presentation assembled by young ones from Quamichan about their trip to the river near the Boys Road Reserve to participate in spear fishing; there was a report about concluding the installation of the modulars at 3 district schools. There were the usual approvals for retirements and school trips.

My mind wandered a bit simply because some of us had been up to our shorts in the election campaign for many weeks. I contemplated the homilies offered up at the all candidates meetings in light of the challenges we have in our district. Some people are in for a surprise. Apart from me of course who never ceases to be shocked at the chaos and deterioration designed by our overlords at the Leg.

Largely unsullied by the slightest insight from attending our board meetings, some candidates had told us how clearly they understand the problems; how confident they are in their creative solutions for our funding circumstances. I found myself thinking about the heroic lengths to which our employees and families already travel to embrace our kids and advance their learning prospects – against all odds, unswervingly valiant despite the years stretching on with mounting shortfalls.

I thought about the families who try to raise extra money for basic classroom needs from shrinking pocketbooks in spare time which these days does not exist for anyone.

I thought about the teachers who buy food, clothes, books and supplies with their own money – and never receive a dollar in remuneration and little thanks.

I thought of the resourcefulness of our EA’s as they try to compensate for the lack of person power in the classrooms. Or those who must attempt to make up the huge gap left by the reversals in our schools brought on by cuts to Intensive Behaviour programs, Alternate Education and non enrolling teaching positions in literacy, numeracy, technology, resource time and counseling.

I pondered the range of activities teachers must now undertake to provide what our teacher/ librarians once did now that over half of them are gone.

Creativity? Ingenuity?

Whenever the Ministry has flounced in to download yet another bureaucratic train wreck e.g. BCESIS, Bill 33, FDK, 21st Century Learning and a swarm of ridiculous contentless fads without the attendant resources- our Leonardo Da Vinci’s in all areas of our district step up their game. Not enough? No we must all become captains of commerce and devise schemes to generate cash on top of our real jobs. Meanwhile we are distracted from the fact our kids are being robbed while the government uses our best intentions to obscure the obvious – and we all feel it is somehow our fault for not being innovative enough.

What dog poop it all is!!

Long ago, this province funded its public schools largely through the practice of local taxation. A school tax was levied as part of the property tax and from this revenue, the needs of our school districts were met. It had something to recommend it as this gave communities some vital ownership over their schools. The decision to resource them reflected community priorities as of course taxes could be stayed or raised depending on need or inclination. However, by the early 1980s, the autonomy of local school boards was being constrained in response to what the government of the day regarded as rising educational costs (due to growing enrollments- ironic, eh?). The predictable ideological reaction prompted the introduction of public sector restraint legislation, which capped local spending and removed board authority to tax commercial and industrial property.

 In 1990/1991, this province after a period of change, soul searching and discourse finally moved to block funding whereby the entire school tax portion of the property tax was remitted to the provincial coffers and distributed from there to all school districts in concurrence with other funding from the provincial pot. The intention was commendable and sought to bring equity to the schools all over BC.

Though it was fine to have locally funded schools you can well imagine this bred deep inequality from district to district, as some had tremendous revenue bases and some did not. If all our children were to have the same opportunities for learning, wealth had to be transferred from the wealthiest to the poorest and a level field established everywhere. Sane and sensible and just and oh so Canadian.

So…here we are. The province has copped the lot in the name of consistency and school boards are entirely dependent on the largesse of Victoria for the operation of their districts. If Victoria decides to apply the contents of the purse swollen by taxation from our communities to priorities which are not our own, we are left trying to figure out how to pay the district hydro bill among many other things.

Our employees, our families and our trustees have a job to do and frankly, they are doing it. Guiding the district, nurturing our children, supporting our employees, tending our physical plant- these are the critical functions we all perform despite the turmoil and insufficiencies visited on us. We are not responsible for coming up with dazzling solutions to a problem designed by the very people who are obligated to provide us with the revenue we need to do these jobs.

When the province took over collecting the money and further for distributing those funds they became the sole custodians of our needs. The money they allocate is ours by right and there is no reason to believe we have to add one cent to the pot we have already paid into. You cannot have it both ways – either distribute the people’s money for the people’s needs or let someone else collect the revenue.

If we want to apply creativity decisively we should club together  and poetically let the extremists at the Treasury Board know there is a serious disconnect between what they think is important  and what we know is vital for our families. That requires perseverance and a touch of the artistic spirit.

So lets continue to be creative and support all the wonderful people who inhabit our schools from the tiniest kindergartener to the veteran teacher to the cheerful secretaries; the gifted trades people, the hardworking and diligent custodians, the courageous bus drivers; the tireless principals, the ungainly ‘about to be adult’ high school students, the skilled managers; the troubled, the sad, the overwhelmed the hopeful, the brilliant and those hanging on by their finger nails to their dreams.

And of course the thoughtful and beleaguered trustees.

Let the government do their job and provide the money we need to do ours without all this whining and distortion. We have not allowed ourselves to be taxed so they can tell us to mount bake sales or run offshore businesses to meet the needs of our kids. They have our money. We need it and damnit we are going to get it all back.

That is a fundraising campaign I can get behind and so should you. Anything else is just endorsing our own victimhood. 

So the meeting ended and the credits rolled – the last installment in a series of mocumentaries by Bummer Films Co. We are adjourned but not for long and when we return the cast should include all our communities and all our employees and if those who believe as I do have our way (which would be a first but there you are) it will.

See you  6:30 pm December 7th at the School Board Office on Beverley Street in Cowichan for our official swearing in (as opposed to just plain swearing which is understandable). All are welcome and as we want to get off to a good start the more of you who join us there  the merrier it will be. And thanks for the last 6 years…they have been most instructive.

Your Trustee Pal

Eden

 

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