Independent schooling spokesmodel Patti Bacchus
Vision's school trustee Chair Patti Bacchus is making the media rounds today trying to explain why under her leadership she would not have been able to get her 2010/2011 school budget passed. I'm already hearing that this is a huge vote of non-confidence in Bacchus' leadership as chair. COPE effectively have indicated that they are not going to support the budget, and the NPA aren't talking. Which means that with only four votes, Vision cannot get their budget passed tonight.
The excuse being used is that the board is now waiting for the Ministry's report from Special Adviser Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland. And after calling for her resignation and accusing her of lacking the intelligence and integrity for the job, they are now pinning their hopes on a meeting with Minister Margaret MacDiarmid. They should be thankful that Dr. MacDiarmid has more class than Vision/COPE have ever demonstrated, and will likely hear them out.
I've been getting a LOT of reaction to my story from yesterday about the Vision/COPE trustees and their unholy alliance with the militant BCTF, using Hollyhock's own Stepan Vdovine – Vision board member – to stage their agitprop campaign against Victoria. Vdovine, by the way, received an endorsement by the BCGEU for his Maple Ridge school trustee campaign. He also colluded closely with Vision Trustee Mike Lombardi on a failed coup which tried to split the BCSTA – the so-called Trustees Action Group – last year.
While I don't subscribe to the idea that we use the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to conduct education policy, I tip my hat for the good sense coming from the CTF's Maureen Bader this morning. Bader reminds us that there is merit in closing smaller schools, provided the resulting critical mass at neighbouring schools benefits students. On CKNW she said:
"People are very resistant to change because they can't see what good there is in the future. They think they're just going to lose out. But in fact, what might happen for their children is they might actually be better off, even if they have to go a bit further away."
Bader believes Boards need to have the confidence to do what's best for students, even if it's unpopular. She says programs and services would improve if they weren't spread out over partially-filled schools.
As a parent with a child in a low-enrollment annex, I say hear hear. We struggle each year because of the decreasing numbers. A local strategy to invite parents to discuss changing schools could help to mitigate anxiety over the change, and possibly see the benefits. That kind of leadership is needed from the VSB, and it's just not happening.
There are six elementary school annexes in Vancouver with under 100 students each. I know that my child's school is excellent, as I'm sure the others are too. It saddens me that our school's population has dropped by about 30% in the past five years, but housing affordability, school choice and private options have not helped us. I'm arriving at the conclusion that the school is unsustainable with such low numbers.
On paper the savings by closing several annexes adds up to over $1,000,000 annual savings that could be put into other school programs. The empty buildings then could be leased out to daycare or other organizations that could benefit the community. The income from the leases would also go into school programs. Why haven't VSB school trustees looked more closely at this option? Well, that would take political courage, wouldn't it?
UPDATE: CKNW Radio reports after Thursday night's meeting that Vision are trying to strike a more diplomatic tone with the Education Minister, and Trustee Mike Lombardi is even speculating – finally – that Vancouver might want to look at school closures. But get this – they won't really be looking at any closures until AFTER THE NEXT ELECTION!
As we reported here earlier, the VSB Trustees have recently decided to EXTEND the time it would take to close a school. This smacks of lacking any political backbone at all. As we've stated repeatedly, Vision Vancouver are a populist party who take a page from the Bill Vander Zalm school of politics. No leadership at all. Nada.
On a side note, I should also point out the rubbish that sometimes gets published on the schools issue by other newspapers. Last week the Vancouver Courier's Naoibh O'Connor added this intro to her Class Notes column:
I'm told B.C. Comptroller General Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, the special adviser looking into the school district's finances, arrived in Vancouver with a team of people by helijet Monday. By contrast, trustees planned to carpool to the ferry for this weekend's B.C. School Trustees' Association meeting in Victoria.
It was a cheap shot that demonstrates the kind of agenda journalism we too often see these days. The fact is that Denike, Blakey and Gibson all drove over to Victoria by themselves. Of course, O'Connor's dig has already elicited the predictable angry letter to the editor.
For those who love a little politics with their morning coffee, check out my latest column in today's 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper.
- post by Mike