We now have a plan for our schools. Brought to you by the ministry appointee who replaced the elected board after the trustees were fired for submitting a budget seeking to restore some of the programs and services our district had lost over the years.
His ‘community connection’ letter is a tuneless little ditty – full of innuendo and ministry hackspeak. It would be a pleasant change if any of these people could be more straightforward but of course, they know our citizens want their schools properly resourced and by the way kept open and many of us have stopped believing in the language of phony austerity. Therefore, it is best to obscure the intent for now. But we are well trained in deciphering the jargon so we all know what is coming down the pipe. Thus, we are treated to the assignment Mr McKay sees as his to execute. It is billed as a ‘community connection’ letter which is curious because it reads like a manifesto already underway. Whatever else you can say about the ‘plan’ – it is appropriate a ministry representative like Mr McKay carries out the next round of outrages for the government and not local people elected to tend our schools.
Mr McKay, champion of a sweeping Ministry of Education agenda to flat line our public education system on behalf of the province explains he brings new thinking – an end as he says- to the status quo. I suppose there is some truth to this, as ordinarily we would have elected people doing his job so – quite a departure there already.
You could be confused if you failed to read the small print – the status quo is evidently the long sustained community efforts to defend our schools and the services we all know our kids need. Mr McKay wants to change things because the roll out of the provincial government’s schemes have been somewhat hampered by our families and employees. In Cowichan, we have had some success in fighting back and holding on- in fact 10 years of holding on. Mr McKay believes this is the status quo he is boldly transforming.
But the daring new world to which Mr McKay refers is well worn cloth – closing our neighbourhood schools, selling off public assets, ramping up the wholesale cut and slash to programs and services including transportation and most lamentable of all – an end to the hard won committees which allow our partner groups some say in the way our district operates. This represents the direction senior staff has been panting to get on with and now the field is clear -they think -to do so. The authorisation for Mr McKay’s plan evidently springs from the documents he cites almost all of which were commissioned to further a program of ruin for the schools and an end to the intrusion of community into the deeds of the unelected. Little of what you read in these musings of functionaries (listed at the end of Mr McKay’s document) has one damn thing to do with the well being of our students or the advancement of their learning.
Mr McKay has referred solemnly to these reports and documents turned out dutifully by hired guns to supply exactly the recommendations the senior staff wished to see. Most elected board members would recognise them for what they are and exhibit less reverence. Many of the conclusions have been made flesh but all have endured considerable scrutiny and in some cases reversal.
The Fleming Report, which was commissioned in early 2006, expressly to demolish the committee system Cowichan School District enjoyed, did exactly that in January 2007 when the recommendations from that report called for an end to both the Operations and Finance Committees. The district then established a Management/Finance Committee consisting exclusively of all trustees and senior staff to combine the work being done by the two lost committees. Mr Fleming did consult with our partner groups and with the sole exception of the DPAC (who decided on behalf of all parents that their voice could be happily removed from transparent district decision making) all the rest demanded their presence on these bodies continue.
Where do these reports get their conclusions from if not from the dialogue between the authors and those who are included in the research? The Fleming Report failed to mirror the views of the community in Cowichan but it must have originated somewhere. Cowichan recovered the lost committees I am happy to report after every trustee who ran for election in 2008 pledged to return the voice of our partners to the mix because they knew this was what the valley wanted. Why would Mr McKay hold this path up as commendable when so many had already pronounced it a fiasco?
The Rubadeau Report which was inflicted on our district towards the end of 2006 sparked two years of school closure processes all on the baffling math which claimed savings from closing a school at $250,000. Even our Secretary Treasurer at the time( an ardent closer) stated the savings closing a school might bring would be less than $80,000 as the only real source of savings were clerical and custodial time. Of course, as is always the case no allowance is given for the cost of these closures in terms of loss of enrollment which we would naturally need to apply against the savings. If out of a school community, 10 kids are moved to private or home schooling the gain is swallowed and this is in fact exactly what happened after every closure.
Rubadeau was able to tell us clearly we have no right to our neighbourhood schools and then concocted figures which even if they had been accurate would be beside the point. Our district has closed many schools in the years since 2000 – count them if you like or look at the many missing schools still displayed on the quilt in our board room. Yount (now being used to house the kids from A.B.Greenwell) Cowichan Station, Stanley Gordon, Mount Brenton, Sahtlam, Elsie Miles – where are the accumulated savings in the budget of our district which by Rubadeau’s bookkeeping should have shielded us from the relentless shortfalls(check out the chart at the end of the Rubadeau Report for a bit of light entertainment). School closures are a cut like any other and one of the larger contributors to our declining enrollment. Now Mr McKay wants to go after the schools our communities have fought to keep on the same flimsy premise.
Cowichan schools have a utilization rate (percent of capacity in use by students) of over 84% which puts us about in the middle ground for island districts – and let’s remember those numbers under which they make these calculations are based on understaffing and overcrowding our classrooms. If we staffed to the needs of our kids, our utilisation would be far higher. We did not even have room to accommodate full day kindergarten and thus the ministry supplied us with 6 modulars. If all this is so, how can closing our small schools make any sense unless it is simply done in the name of diminishing our system? It would take a greater talent for propaganda then the one displayed so far by the Ministry to get a whole valley to believe cuts and closures are a solution to cuts and closures. Or that they benefit our children
Mr McKay exhorts us to make do and embrace creative change rather than demand the resources we have already paid for within our taxation. He should know – as one of the highest paid educators in BC and the recipient of an additional healthy stipend to help strip Cowichan of its elected people and further government mischief, he has the honour of soaking up well over $300,000 a year. Good thing there is enough to cover the cost of administrators who are seldom in the presence of children. The real creative energy is down the food chain a bit.
Mr McKay- like all the influential and highly trained people who occupy the senior posts in the public education system- clearly understands the effects on our schools and our families of the downloading, the slashed budgets and the termination of democracy. They have a duty to act and yet they choose to enroll in a program which has only one possible outcome.
I will end with an excerpt from the Message from the Chair which was circulated as our pledge after the election last fall. Ask yourself if it is likely any overpaid mandarin could fulfill this promise we made to our community:
“We will fiercely defend our children; we will be just and compassionate employers; we will protect the public assets represented by the physical plant of SD #79.We will keep our eyes not just on the day to day operation of the classrooms but the wider world which our students will inhabit as they grow.”
Mr McKay’s plan falls far short of such lively ideals. We lived up to our plan in word and deed– now the duty of our community and ourselves is to see that Mr McKay does not live up to his.
Time for a By Election, EH!
Eden Haythornthwaite /The Once and Future Trustee