Education Minister reads the riot act to Vision/COPE school trustees

Post by Mike Klassen in

19 comments

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Parents opting for private education are hearing Vision's Patti Bacchus loud & clear

"The Vancouver school board was fired today." The person speaking on the end of the line had either misunderstood today's news release from the Ministry of Education, I thought, or something had happened during the last couple of hours I had completely missed. "No, you're wrong," I challenged. "The Minister has simply appointed a special advisor, or in essence, brought in an auditor."

"Trust me," said my contact. "What happened today is tantamount to removing Vancouver's Board of Education from their jobs."

You knew it couldn't continue. The calls for the Minister's resignation, the manipulation of the budget to send fear into parents across the city, the political rallies sponsored by union organizers. It was reaching a boiling point, and the Minister wisely stepped in to kibosh the Vancouver School Board's political activism.

So on the one hand, it does indeed look like trustees have been sent to bed without their supper. On the other hand, it's an opportunity for Chair Patti Bacchus and her unruly Vision/COPE caucus to take the high road.

In the past several weeks Vision's Patti Bacchus has become the spokesmodel for private education in Vancouver. Parents are reeling because they don't know whom to believe. PACS all over the city are mounting letter-writing campaigns, and emailing friends and colleagues to get out to protest rallies for the TV cameras. Some parents are so exasperated by it all they are considering taking their kids out of the public education system, and operators of private educational institutions are licking their chops at all the potential increase in enrollment.

What has been amazing in recent weeks is to see Vision Vancouver's carefully managed relationship with the provincial government go sideways. The best and only person to control it is the caucus leader, Mayor Gregor Robertson, but he is nowhere to be seen.

Robertson's role should be to help calm the waters between Vancouver and Victoria. There is a huge risk that his entire social agenda for the city, which is heavily dependent upon funding from the Province, could go up in smoke.

For example, after the city conducted its extraordinary homeless count – the first conducted by the city alone and without Metro Vancouver's involvement – why did Robertson allow Councillors Raymond Louie and Kerry Jang to take shots at Rich Coleman? Both were in the media pointing fingers at the Minister for more funding for HEAT shelters, much to the chagrin of Coleman.

Over at the school board you've got Patti Bacchus and her fellow Vision colleagues condescending to Minister MacDiarmid, accusing her of misleading statements or ignorance of basic math. Thankfully NPA Trustees Carol Gibson and Ken Denike called their colleagues on the matter, and reminded them that personal attacks were not going to help Vancouver's student population.

For further proof that Roberson has no control over his caucus, tonight we learn that Coun. Andrea Reimer has put forward a motion to city council to condemn the province over school board funding. What on Earth could that possibly do to help other than to further erode relations with Victoria? NPA Coun. Suzanne Anton pulls no punches when describing how Vision has handled the education file:

"I feel that a stream of constant whining that we get from the school board, from the school board chair, and obviously now from Coun. Reimer, does a great disservice to our school system. It's sending out a message that our system is no good anymore and of course that's not true. It's sending out a message that we can't possibly manage and that, of course, is not true," Anton said.

Taking a page from Premier Glen Clark's political handbook is not the best strategy. Clark infamously baited Ottawa to stake his ground out in B.C., and only made his home province a laughing stock. Bacchus seems hard-wired when it comes to making intemperate remarks about those she disagrees with. Perhaps its time for her caucus to put someone else in charge, such as the relatively mild-mannered Trustees Mike Lombardi or Allan Wong, at least until things cool down.

Bacchus leaped in front of TV cameras tonight, predictably expressing her outrage at Dr. MacDiarmid. But there's no escaping the fact that the BC government today cast a very loud vote of non-confidence in Vancouver's school board. I predict that Bacchus and her Vision/COPE caucus will continue to inflame relations with the province for the weeks to come. And it will only serve to hurt our school system, while needlessly upsetting parents and students.

There's only one person who can prevent this. Mayor Robertson, it's time to kick the leadership thing into gear, or at least give Magee the okay to dole out some tough love.

19 Comments

As a member of the Vancouver School Board I fully support Patti Bacchus in her leadership role as the chairperson of the VSB. She has done a superb job of advocating for the students of Vancouver.

All trustees are deeply concerned about the increasing effect of funding shortfalls, which results in the loss of services and supports to students in Vancouver.

The Vancouver School Board is projecting a funding shortfall of up to $18.12 million for the 2010/11 school year. Without a funding increase to cover this shortfall, the Vancouver School Board is required to make drastic cuts to an already very lean and underfunded school system.

While it may be true that provincial funding for education is at its highest level, recent increases have not kept pace with rising costs, resulting in funding shortfalls.

Vancouver has cut more than $51 million in staffing, programs and services since 2002/03 because funding increases did not keep pace with rising costs. Most of these costs are provincially determined and downloaded to district operating budgets, for example: provincially negotiated salary increases; pension plan contributions; MSP premiums; carbon emission reporting; and offset purchase requirements. If these costs are not fully funded, staffing, programs and services must be reduced, further eroding what has proven to be a world-class public education system.

I am proud of the parents, students, and stakeholder groups who are supporting the advocacy efforts of the VSB.

More information about VSB advocacy efforts can be found at:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/advocacy

Mike Lombardi
Trustee, VSB

Bacchus is completely out of line here. The Board exists solely to balance the annual budget and rather than actually doing its job and utilizing this as an opportunity to review and streamline services for the future, they've turned it into an all out political attack on the provincial government. It's unruly and unprofessional. Just goes to show, despite Gregor's post-partisan values, many of his compadres are just the same old NDP.

What utter nonsense. My child has been attending schools in the VSB for a decade. I did not need Ms Bacchus or anyone else to tell me to be alarmed about cuts to classroom services. Neither do I need twits like Ms MacDiarmid or her little handmaidens running this blog to tell me the attack on our children's schools is imaginary.

Take your silly political games to some other playground and save your puffery for some topic that you have a clue about.

Gotta agree with Paul and Mike here. Professional decorum is seriously lacking on this board. Yelling at your boss to step down from their job in any other scenario would lead to an outright sacking.

I'm not sure why Parent isn't just as wound up about the 'silly political games' the trustees themselves are engaged in. It's hardly puffery for Anton, this blog or anyone else to point out that scare tactics like shutting down all music and band programs in schools only makes private school alternatives look more appealing.

It's time for Bacchus for resign. NOW! All this partisan fighting is hurting our kids.

@Harold. She doesn't need to resign, the Minister essentially fired her yesterday. Good riddance.

Patty Bacchus and Andrea Reimer destroying what we have in defending us from the big bogey man "THE PROVINCE".

Just more chatter from "Team VISION - World Police"

In case you geniuses and Counc. Anton didn't notice, that's NPA trustee Ken Denike standing right behind Ms Bacchus at yesterday's press conference:
http://www.cknw.com/Channels/Reg/NewsLocal/Story.aspx?ID=1218719&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

NPA trustee Gibson was also there and has publicly acknowledged that the funding shortfall is the fault of the Province and that there is no way to cover it without extensively cutting core programs.

And the parent groups now leading letter campaigns urging the Minister to honour her responsibilities: Shaughnessy, Gordon, QE, Bayview, Quilchena, UHill, Prince of Wales...

At least Denike & Gibson have the good sense to read where the wind is blowing from on this one.

If parents are pulling their children out of schools and going private then isn't the government is getting what it wants?

As the result of many years of incompetence and conflict-of-interest problems, school boards have been stripped of any ability to set policy. In effect they exist solely as flak-catchers. When problems arise parents take their concerns to their local Board only to learn that there is nothing the Board can do.
The collective agreements imposed (not bargained) by successive provincial governments determine how operating budgets are spent. Over 90% of these budgets go to very generous salaries and benefits for district employees. These employees and their surrogates dominate trustee elections and Boards place their interests ahead of everything else. The intransigence, political agenda and crackpot ideology of the teachers' unions have not helped.
For the last 25 years the first priority of K-12 in BC has been jobs for adults, not educational achievement for students.

As a front-line worker in the education system, I am well aware of what the continuous under funding, year after year, is doing to our public schools. Each year the provincial government gives an amount to school districts that does not keep up with inflation or other increased costs. This means that employees are cut, programs are cut, field trips are cut, sports programs are cut, music programs are cut. Fewer books are purchased, fewer computers are purchased, fewer resources are purchased. As I explained to Mike DeJong on Global TV a couple of elections ago, when funding goes up by 3 cents but costs go up by 5 cents, you can claim that more pennies are going into it, but you are still short—and we are not talking about pennies here, but millions of dollars. Chronic under funding is crippling our schools. Yes we are still doing a good job, but the people of British Columbia deserve better than a good system.

What strikes me as odd is that almost every school district in the province is faced with the same shortfall and they have spoken out too—yet only Vancouver was sent an auditor. You may say that the VSB has made this political, but the province is playing in kind. The minister is playing high stakes politics with our children’s future. I don’t think this is good public policy or good politics. If the province is serious about funding they would have send an investigative team out months ago to look at how school districts across the province spend their money. Then and only then, when they have enough information should they give out the local allocations and claim that it is sufficient. This same scenario was played out years ago and the auditor came back saying districts needed more money. What will the province do when the auditor comes to the same conclusion this time? It’s time educational stakeholders stopped playing games and started respecting our children. Quality education costs money — money that is the best investment in all of our futures.

Landlord - very well put! I walked past Grandview elementary school yesterday. Two big banners were in the front entrance saying "Save our Staff".
Not save our school or education or curriculum -- save our STAFF.
I refer to a post on October 16th last year in support of your comments on crackpot ideology http://www.citycaucus.com/2009/10/visions-school-board-chair-defends-political-program-aimed-at-children

@Paul I'm sorry, but you couldn't be more wrong. The role of the Board is not "solely to balance the annual budget" but to be Trustees for public education in their district. The Board is not just a fiscal management tool, a quick look through the BC School Act shows that Boards are responsible for standards for student performance, plans for improving student achievement, literacy, and early learning programs. The board is also responsible for "the custody, maintenance and safekeeping of all property owned or leased by the board." So when the province introduces unfunded cost increases, fails to follow it's own timeline on school seismic upgrades, withholds money earmarked to repair schools, or introduces new taxation mechanisms that increase costs to Boards, it makes it impossible to comply with the legally mandated responsibilities they have as Trustees. So no Paul, they aren't "completely out of line," they're doing their job. There aren't 10,000 surplus spaces like the Minister claims, internal VSB reports and the Superintendent's own public budget presentation show this. There aren't any magical surpluses each year either. The VSB passes their budget by the end of April because they have contractual obligations to do so. As a result they have millions of dollars remaining, but dollars that are strictly allocated. I'm sorry, but if the Education Minister doesn't understand that, she's either incompetent or she's lying. Either way, it's unacceptable.

landlord, you're correct. The BCTF and CUPE fund Vision and COPE's campaigns. They can credit these unions for their electoral success. When contract time comes around, the loudest voices for paying workers top dollar are the same people who now hold the majority at the school board.

So it's all fine for them to complain about lack of funds to cover salary and benefits, but where were they when it was time to keep those costs in check? Sounds like what goes around comes around to me.

Mary... the government negotiates contracts with teachers. School Boards lost that power years ago. After the 2005 strike, it was Carole Taylor, Mike de Jong, and Shirley Bond that made the last wage deal. School boards have nothing to do with it.

City Caucus is betting on the wrong horse here. MacDiarmid has been floundering for months. It is under her watch that trustees across the province are speaking out against her policies... it's not just Vision as City Caucus partisans would have you believe.

If she fires this Board, Vision would probably have a shot at a clean sweep and Bacchus would win big.

@ Mary : "...where were they when it was time to keep those costs in check?".
They were out on the picket line with their puppet masters during an illegal strike. A strike which only ended after threats of finding the union leadership in contempt of an order of the Supreme Court of BC and acceptance of the contract based on a $5000 signing bonus for teachers.
Capital spending on schools tracks the election cycle. Claims of "under-funding" is code for union greed. Education is the second-largest item in the Provincial budget ($433 Million last year). There have never been any cuts to that budget. Never. Not once.
Service cuts in district operating budgets are the result of the employees elbowing everyone else aside on their way to the trough. Every cent cut from ESL, music, special-ed, tetbooks, etc. goes straight into teachers' pockets.
At the same time that teachers' salaries keep them comfortably among the top 10% of incomes in Canada, student achievement is mediocre at best.
What do Boards suggest as a way forward? Cutting the number of days of instruction (presently a mere 185 days/yr), not the number of teachers or their remuneration.
Teachers work 37 30-hour weeks/yr for an average salary of $65K/yr. Of those 30 hrs only 20 are spent in direct classroom instruction. The taxpayers who must pay for this work at least 40 hrs/wk at least 50 weeks/yr for an average of $32K/yr. What's wrong with this picture?


Clearly, both the minister and her puppet master, the premier, are mounting a deliberate political attack on Vancouver school trustees and, by extension, on the majority of Vancouver voters who elected them. Look up the numbers and you will find that trustee Bacchus polled more votes than Campbell, McDiarmid and Hansen combined, and did so in a civic election where voter turnout is less than in provincial elections. That, in itself, proves little, except that Ms. Bacchus was well-regarded before her election. I suggest she is even more highly regarded now, especially since she has dared to speak up clearly against the fallacious claim by the provincial government that is is adequately funding public education. As my friend Stuart notes, all front-line education workers have been doing much more with much less for more than 13 years, at considerable personal cost. Peeling paint, undersupplied libraries, no funds for field trips, too few support staff, more paperwork, and mandated, costly computer programs of dubious effectiveness, all combine to create working conditions from hell. As a recently-retired Vancouver secondary teacher with a Masters degree in History and Philosophy, and university teaching experience, I can tell you, I did not teach high school for the money. No one does. We are a profession largely devoid of posers and cynics. No, folks, despite the ridiculous remarks by some posters here about teachers' "37 hour weeks' and the system only existing to give them bigger and bigger paychecks, teachers are among the hardest working professionals in the province. They continue, in the odious jargon of the marketplace, 'to produce a superior product.' On all international tests, BC public school students do extremely well. Moreover, on balance, public school graduates out perform those from private schools, notably in university mathematics courses. Look at the work of Dr. George Bluman, if you will. I fondly remember when the VSB team from Templeton won the 2005 national CBC Smart Ask competition, soundly trouncing Bishop's, a private prep school from back east. Temp's Titans had to beat St. George's to get there. So, think about what might be achieved if public education, the single most important social institution in a democracy, were reliably and properly funded. Trustee Bacchus understands the role of the trustee: to defend and advance the public interest and to guard it jealously against egregious attacks, regardless of the source. Public education is a fragile entity, born of political will, and in political will lies its only hope for both survival and enhancement.

Some facts about 2010-2011 K-12 budget to provide context :

Total operating grants for public schools will be $4.828 billion next year, up 2.8 per cent from this year.

Per-pupil funding for students in K-12 will rise from $8200 in 2009-10 to an estimated $8301 for 2010-11, the highest ever.

Districts will have an extra $50 million a year for three years, which will cover the two per cent salary hike plus improved benefits.

In addition, the budget provides an extra $22 million for full-day kindergarten in 2012-13 to bring total annual spending on the new program to $129 million. An earlier budget set aside $44 million to cover partial implementation this fall and $107 million for 2011-12 when full-day kindergarten will be available for all five-year-olds.

The rebate for school districts on the harmonized sales tax (HST) is expected to be worth $32 million a year.

The provincial budget also promised $26 million in child-care subsidies for low- and moderate-income parents.

The BCTf is not allowed to fund political parties. It is against their constitution.

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