Today- along with a room full of public education supporters, (well mostly) I watched as a quickie special meeting -with appointee McKay on Skype from his Surrey location with our senior staff in the flesh- launched an unnecessary endeavour.
As usual there is always another purpose beside the one touted and no one there was distracted by the insistence this was about ‘just gathering info’. The Skyping in was awkward but it makes little difference if your only task is rubberstamping (definition according to Encarta “to authorize or approve something automatically, without thinking, questioning, or dissenting”) the wishes of the Ministry or the top dogs in the board office. Who needs a warm body in that case?
Hastily called, the sole purpose of the meeting this night was to provide Mr McKay the opportunity to hand over a $25,000 contract to Graham Hoffart Mathiasen Architects- the folks who just finished the Project Identification Report for our joyfully anticipated new Cowichan High School. Their task is to cobble together a facilities plan in time for upcoming forums being organised by the district to present their program for closure and upheaval in our schools. It seems an odd conflict to ask a firm which could benefit from the outcome of this report to compile it. After all – if their conclusions promote the view our district should victimise our outlying areas and eliminate some of our smaller schools in order to make the case for the new high school (and certainly, there are many better ways to do that) they will no doubt also take on the lucrative contract to proceed with the design and construction of the new school. This of course rests heavily on the assumption frantically closing and cutting back our district buildings will get us a new school or anything else. What it is likely to get us is a further exodus of students to private options which may upend our hopes for a new school by placing downward pressure on enrollment.
Our district has been working from the Comprehensive Strategic Facilities Plan – produced by Yates, Thorn and Associates in 2004 for some time. The same bunch did a follow-up in 2010 and in August of 2012, Yates again produced a report which provides enrollment projections through to 2023. The intentions of senior staff have remained the same for many years though of course we know in 2008, the frontal assault on four district schools – Tansor, Ecole Mill Bay, Koksilah and Somenos was thwarted after the community raised their voice in condemnation. Since then no board has been willing to travel that road but we don’t have a board right now so no matter what happens no one who promotes this direction will be held accountable. A quick by election might have created barriers to this agenda – it leaves me wondering why only some trustees were anxious to put their vision to the electoral test.
We have in this district an able and dedicated Operations Department, we have received audits on the conditions of our schools from the ministry team charged with this work relatively recently; we have a current enrollment projection report and a Strategic Plan to guide the district in how it goes about providing programs and services. We have over the years checked in with our various zones about the expectations of our families and employees. We have access to the expert planning info all our local governments can supply at a moments notice. Still it seems we are now in need of a more extrovert version of all this to justify whittling away our schools further.
My prediction – the community forums will be dominated by low information and unworthy and superficial assumptions which ignore the effects of understaffing and limited maintenance budgets on the conditions and utilisation of our schools. The district staff will serve up ‘Options A, B or C’ all of which will be horrific and ask community to pick one. Calculated to exploit the paralysis which often accompanies being offered choices all of which are undesirable, the district may hope our families will grasp the least abominable one in the belief failure to do so may result in enduring an even worse fate. Ask the folks out at the Lake about the closure of Stanley Gordon in 2003 or the parents of Cowichan Station- they were the victims of this curious method of pretend consultation and the outcome for their school communities has been entirely predictable.
Don’t forget- Cowichan schools have a utilisation 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?
We await the next pronouncements. I don’t think they are interested in ours. Who can blame them? Like kids released into a frozen yogurt shop they can’t believe their luck – no pesky elected people to ask awkward questions or place barriers in the path of efficiency.
It will be tricky but perfectly possible to push this initiative back as long as we don’t all succumb to defeatism in face of what sometimes seems an unholy and powerful alliance. After all, we did it before and made them blink. It has taken them almost 5 years to recover their nerve and only the absence of an elected board has made them bold. We don’t need to have every card in our hands to play this game.
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.
Special meeting eh…
Trustee in Exile