The ever upbeat VSB School Board chair Patti Bacchus lashes out at Victoria
Vancouver is in a tough spot relative to schools these days, thanks to rapidly changing demographics and other self-destructive factors. Our very good school system is being pulled seven ways to Sunday by a variety of factors. Some school superintendents, trustees and administrators are working very hard to reform school districts to adapt to these changes. However, the province's 2nd largest school district seems to be lumbering into the future like a super tanker headed toward a rocky shoal.
Tonight on GlobalTV, Vancouver School Board chair made the following statement:
It is irresponsible for the Minister of Education to claim that school districts have the funding they need to provide their services. She is either deliberately misleading the public, or she doesn't understand basic numbers. In either case she might need to think about resigning if that's what she's doing.
Now, let's ask ourselves for a minute whether Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid, a general practitioner and our Minister of Education, might have some issues appreciating basic math. Common sense might suggest that Dr. MacDiarmid's math skills are a little sharper than Ms. Bacchus' education in poli-sci and public relations might provide. By any calculation it adds up to a cheap shot, and Patti ought to know better.
Ladies and gents, it's time we all pull back from this ridiculous rhetoric, and a fight over funding being waged on the six o'clock news. The school boards, the BCTF (who are juicing up this fight with their usual inflammatory anti-government strategies), district staff and the province all must sit down and figure this one out. Minister MacDiarmid is correct in suggesting that it is up to school boards to make the tough decisions. So far we've heard only complaints and no constructive ideas, so perhaps it's time to start.
Nobody I know wants a more robust, sustainable local public education system than me. However, what I see are silos where no one has the ability to think outside the box. This Texas standoff between management and unions cannot continue. Unions that suppress dialogue among their members cannot be considered credible representatives. Districts who are not facing the facts about declining enrollment (and it's serious, folks) must either step up or be overruled by the province. School board chairs who wage Jihads on senior levels of government during the six o'clock news must stand down.
Some school boards, such as Vancouver seems to be doing, are beating the drums for more cash. The money simply DOES NOT EXIST. The well is dry. The government has increased per student funding, while the numbers of kids entering schools in most districts is plummeting. Something has to give.
There are very good ideas out there that must be openly debated, such as:
- How are districts structured and are they top-heavy with management? When is the last time we heard of a re-structuring or a significant change in staffing levels among district administrators?
- Where is the "community of schools" plan that proposes that schools serve as community hubs for after hours sport, adult education and other community needs? Given the lack of dollars for new community amenities, a win-win might be staring us in the face.
- Why are schools forbidden to promote themselves, and why can't the public system invest in marketing itself in the face of enormous marketing (and whisper) campaigns in favour of private institutions?
- Why are schools, parks and cities unable to connect on matters of land use planning more effectively?
- Do we need as many school principals and vice-principals as we do for schools with less kids?
- Why aren't we talking seriously about the closure of underpopulated schools? My child attends an annex that drops in enrollment every year, despite of the best efforts of our community to promote it. Eventually we must all have the hard talk about priorities for our kids and neighbourhoods, and the VSB leadership just isn't engaging parents (apart from political supporters) in this discussion.
- Why aren't unions such as CUPE proposing that inside and outside workers learn to multi-task, or be more flexible on items such as facilities or grounds maintenance? I did summer work back in university for school boards, and know that there is a lot of room for improvement and cost efficiency.
There are so many good ideas out there that are not being put on the table for discussion. Instead, we seem to be caught in this vicious cycle of bickering between BCTF contracts and Ministry budgets. Read the papers, gang. The economy is flat, industries are struggling, costs are rising and the infrastructure is aging.
Something's got to give, and I hope it's the stubbornness of stakeholders.