And, it might be.
Like many things which slouch toward you over time, the grieving takes place well before the final curtain but at least in this case we had an eventful roster of motions to end on. Some were just housekeeping – but all expressed our philosophy of support for our students, our employees, our neighbourhood schools as well as our deep disappointment with the professional organisation (BC School Trustee Association) which should uphold our authority, our right to operate according to majority decision and fulfill the wishes of our electorate. By carrying a motion to withdraw from that association which costs $37,000 a year plus the fees for attending academies and the AGM (about another $40,000 for the year) we established some savings. The stated value of legal advice and professional development touted by the supporters of the BCSTA has been in question for 5 of us for some time. Truly the high functioning board we are today has little to do with the BCSTA and much more to do with years of work and experience – for some of us even before we became elected trustees.
We passed a motion recognising Somenos Rural Traditional School as a district school of choice entitled to the same transportation services we offer French Immersion students. This will not kick in until the 2013 school year due to our already completed staffing but gives some much needed support to a small but vital neighbourhood school. Additionally, we asked that staffing for all our schools is based on current registrations or projections whichever number is higher. This is meant to prevent the spectre of downward pressure on enrollment which occurs when staffing does not reflect the needs in the catchment or the expectation of families. For schools like ABG at Yount and Somenos, the way we staff now produces instability and waitlists which tend to drive parents away as they understandably try to place their children in the best environment they can.
We asked -through motion- to seek a legal opinion on the legitimacy of the removal of the elected board by the Minister of Education. After all, it seems quite the hypocritical spectacle to have the provincial government- which operates yearly on accumulating debt like all other levels of government in our land to meet its priorities – wag its finger at a school board which feels so keenly the constraints of having neither the option of taxation or borrowing to supply essential services to the community.
In the midst of all this, our board has been struggling to have our conversation with the government. We have formally asked to meet with the minister and when that seemed more and more unlikely, we sought a meeting with the Treasury Board and the Premier’s Office. After all – in the end those two centres are the actual holders of the purse strings, the keepers of the keys. However, our request was kicked back to Minister Abbott who lost no time telling us no one would meet with our board. His only dialogue with the trustees in Cowichan (as far as I know) over this period has been through comments to the press. How odd; how arrogant; how uncivil.
Minister Abbott has rested his case on 2 baseless claims while denying any possibility there is a siege on our public school system. One – school districts are receiving more funding than ever and the other that balancing a budget signifies all programs and services for a quality education are being provided to our students. As we have often observed, sleight of hand adds a few dollars per pupil while downloading more and more obligations on our system without any added provision for those responsibilities.
A further tidbit of misinformation being repeated (the talking points are few and fail to account for the degraded conditions in our schools) is that our senior staff has a lovely balanced budget all ready for the province if only Cowichan trustees would stop all this nonsense and agree a balanced budget is possible. No one knows better than a long time trustee how easy it is to balance a budget if you are prepared to cut services without conscience. Boards have been doing it for years including the Cowichan Board. In this case, our Finance Committee balanced our budget through disastrous staffing reductions including the loss of 17.2 FTE teaching positions and other savings to the tune of $2.4 million. This fed the beast which was the original shortfall. This was done before attempting to build the $3.8 million restoration items back.
Trustees carefully performed this duty in order to ring fence our district in the likely event we would not be successful in securing the restoration piece. The Minister seems to view the citizens of BC as tragic victims of the school system he has helped create in that he takes for granted we will believe anything due to extreme feeblemindedness. However, few believe the mythologies about increased funding or the fiction that a province full of trustees who willingly submit balanced budgets signifies all is well in our schools.
This is what is clear to me as I listen to the conversation and observe the actual practice: this is not a difference of opinion about whether there is enough money in our public education system or not- between those who believe our government has done right by our kids or those who despair over the lack of needed resources. This dispute is really between those who fully support publicly funded free quality education for everyone and those who truly believe we would be better off with a private enterprise approach to provide the best for a few .
This blog will not feature on our district website once we are terminated but that does not mean it will not surface elsewhere. A ministry appointee will take over and handpick his advisors none of whom will have half the dedication or knowledge our current board does. As one of our last gestures, we passed the following motion:
- The Cowichan Board of Education is being threatened with termination by the Province
- This will result in the appointment of a Ministry trustee to carry out the duties of the Board
It is moved:
The full details of this replacement are supplied to the community on the district website and all media including:
- Identity of the appointee and any advisors and their roles
- Remuneration for each individual role
- Source of the remuneration
Further, it is moved: All business normally required to take place in public is held in the open with full and timely notification of time and place on the district website and all media.
Though we may not be in any official position to enforce this motion, it is ground our valley can stand on; you all can reach for this recommendation as an authorisation of the power Cowichan actually has whether the province acknowledges it or not.
The trustees are going nowhere; as it always has been, the people who have fought for our schools will be present and vocal. After all, the province can get rid of us but the conditions we have worked to address will persist. That will keep us working and will remind all of the people in Cowichan the powerful people in Victoria are neither smart nor insightful. Our resolve to make things better will in the end trump their resolve to throttle our kids’ opportunities.