Board meetings these days are held too early for most folks to attend but many of us struggle there anyway and the gallery is full of indignant camaraderie. If you are going to be indignant, it is best to do so in the company of fellow indignati (possibly not a real word). These days we only have public meetings once a month and the rest of our district function is managed behind the closed doors of our administration. No committee meetings yet and of course our elected trustees are no longer available to liaison with their schools, attend PAC meetings or respond to community pressures and concerns. We only have one man who really should be in his own huge complex district doing his job as superintendent there. Surrey school district pays him a fortune – don’t they need him and if not I just thought of a way to save the Ministry a boatload of cash.
This night the meeting kicked off with two delegations from community members we all know have a deep commitment to our schools. One from our former trustee Di Gunderson who presented as the long serving (as well as long suffering) chair of our Policy Committee on the proposal of senior staff to have the appointee enact a revision to our policy development which would eliminate the role of our Policy Committee and therefore our partners and place it solely in the hands of the board. There had also been several well written letters opposing this change which were included in the agenda package complete with a précis of the remarks.
However later in the meeting when it was time for Proconsul McKay to approve these changes to Policy 1500 which would endow the board with the right to change policies without any resort to our Policy Committee… he blinked . He deferred the decision which seemed a happy outcome- evidently some of the concerns of community and an honoured former trustee had penetrated however, I feel obliged to toss a bit of cold water on this with the following reminder:
In the July 16th meeting, the appointee approved a revision to our school board procedures as follows:
“The Official Trustee may suspend any of the District’s policies if in his opinion it is necessary for good governance of the District.”
(check the link and go to item 7.3(b) https://bcsd79.civicweb.net/Documents/DocumentList.aspx?ID=21019
So whether he proceeds with the change to Policy Development 1500, it really makes little difference right now. He has acquired for himself and our senior staff something an elected board would not do in my experience. Even the most authoritarian of trustees would have hesitated to publicly seize this power. Unelected people seem to see their role as one of an emergency nature. First, they can you; then they carry on as if their hair is on fire; then they declare martial law to avoid the inevitable chaos. But let’s not forget – the Ministry engineered this disruption to our governance so if there is any disorder it is all on them. It would be more appropriate for an unelected caretaker to just perform housekeeping until the real people return not use this sorry situation to further the agenda of the ministry in our absence. If he does not have the time to perform his duties without shredding our policies then this may be a hint for all of us there are reasons we actually need elected committed people guiding the district.
Over the 7 years, I have sat as a trustee one of the most contentious matters boards struggled with was the closure of our small schools. The only real benefit ever placed forward by the school closure enthusiasts was the tremendous savings they claimed would result. Guess what – a decade of pounding our small schools into the ground sending families off to private options has produced no discernible daylight in our budgets but the beat goes on and it remains for us to ask how much of our enrollment decline can be attributed to the loss of services and our neighbourhood schools. In his ironically dubbed Community Connections letter, Mr McKay references the need to examine the sustainability of small schools and the disposition of our dormant properties. He also raises the matter of our schools of choice:
“In a scattered, largely rural district with a small and declining population (Yates/2012), responding to demands for choice programs is difficult. During this year, there will be parameters established and communicated regarding the district’s capacity to initiate and sustain its programs of choice.”
For an educator of such influence he sure gives up easily. Maybe Mr McKay should appeal for more funds. In a district which has previously told our families catchments are not in play but use them when it is convenient this is puzzling but for perfectly understandable reasons the school community at Somenos has viewed these comments as threatening ones.
In order to get out in front of any attempt by senior staff to follow the will of the ministry to shrink the number of our neighbourhood schools further, the co chairs of Somenos presented their assessment of their school and its value to the community. The women of Somenos arrived in the company of the families and staff of their school many in their modest uniforms.
Somenos School is now the home of the Rural Traditional Program formerly housed in another district school Cowichan Station which was closed in 2007. The district has had two runs at closing Somenos and now operates right out of the playbook on beating up our small schools. This link will take you to the presentation from the Somenos PAC at this meeting.
Perhaps this passage gives you a sense of their frustration and urgency…
“After the last round of school closures (5 years ago) our enrollment dropped significantly. SRTS PAC has for the last 6 years worked very hard to build the reputation of the school (without any support from the district). PAC and staff have worked to encourage enrollment at Somenos and that it is safe to do so. Through word of mouth, advertising, and making ourselves visible in the community we were having great success. Then 2yrs ago despite being a school of choice our busing was slashed. Not only our out of catchment busing but even for families within the Somenos catchment. A group of families who are within slashed two years ago a lot of our families just couldn’t get their children to Somenos without the support of busing and regrettably could no longer stay there.”
What the PAC chairs were too polite to emphasise is the fact that while Somenos is a popular school with a wait list, the staffing decisions disallowing enrollment of kids outside the catchment cost Somenos a teacher and a classroom. As we all know, this sort of practice brings with it grade splits and crowding and for no other reason except to build around diminishing resources no one with power is apparently willing to demand. The result is of course that a decline is noted and the handwringing can begin. Whether this school had the rural traditional program or not, it is needed in the area and enjoys great loyalty from the families who have carried on despite the dismissive treatment by the district. While the Ministry demands we review the sustainability of our small schools based on the utilization of the space, it should be noted that much of the empty space is due to understaffing – obviously, if we enjoyed reasonably sized classrooms we would use more space. It seems a sad venture to cut staffing then crow about the need to get rid of our schools because the kids are crowded into fewer classrooms leaving empty space. Who knows – someday common sense may prevail and we will need these classrooms to accommodate a much more beneficial Student/Educator ratio. When you combine this with cuts to bussing eliminating the means to choose Somenos (we bus for French Immersion and frankly we bus for families who do not wish to have their children attend their catchment school if the aboriginal enrollment is high) we have the usual recipe.
Of course, Mr McKay who is gracious in his manner to be sure has offered to examine this presentation and we can only hope he may reject being the instrument of closure in a district which has made it clear it is not what our families and kids want or need.
In closing I do want to comment on the recent announcement that Minister McRae has decided we may after all elect people to manage our district– in a year. Many are disappointed and there are the usual handful of people who do not want a by election at all and are dismayed at the prospect of trustee elections in 2013 and again during the regular cycle in 2014.Oh the expense! Oh the humanity! This however presents yet another download from the province whose representatives could not bring themselves to honour the choices made in our last local election and just sit and hear our board’s appeal for more resources for our schools. If they had done that rather than wield their power and fire our trustees, another election would not be necessary. I can only say – we asked for a by election immediately and have been doing so for months. It is the minister who has made this bizarre decision no doubt in the hope the soulless enterprise of dismantling public education can continue and they can dredge up a bigger coterie of extremists and privatisers to fill the seats of the board if they wait it out. The people I have worked with are ready to roll now. If we cannot burn off our considerable energies resuming our work at the board table I suppose we will just have to devote ourselves more thoroughly to campaigning. Frankly, I think a midterm election should happen in January at least by my simple math.
Next public board meeting is November 14th at the School board office at 4:30 pm. Come for the meeting, ask a question while you still can and join us for tea afterwards.
Nothing wrong these days with being lumped in with the ‘Indignati’ – if you are not indignant, you have not been paying attention.
Your Fired Trustee Pal