A proposed list of Vancouver schools is slated for closure
I attended last night's Vancouver School Board meeting to hear what I knew to be inevitable. My child's school would be put on a list for closure. To me it's a sad occasion that McBride Annex Elementary, a small school with so many great staff, parents, children and wonderful history with the community will have to close. But as this year wore on – our fourth at McBride Annex – I realized that we were losing ground.
In the past decade the Vancouver school district has had enrollment drop by five thousand students. In the past two years we've lost just over 1000 students. McBride Annex, which has a capacity between 150 & 200 students, had around 75 this year. Over the past four years we've seen a loss of between ten and twenty students annually. With all those kids out of the system, we're stuck with unused (and expensive) capacity.
When schools don't succeed, the community at large is affected. I've stressed the idea with anyone who will listen that our local schools are the key ingredient of a successful community. Parent connections are most profound when children socialize. You gain trust, you look after your neighbours. People work for the common good of a community especially when children are factored in.
When the population of a school declines you lose important critical mass. You also lose the advantages of larger school settings, which have funding for additional resources. By not marketing our schools well enough to parents we've created an opportunity for independent schools. We've loosened rules around catchments in response to the intransigence of unions, which has had unintended consequences for schools and communities. There are many factors that are leading us to close schools other than just declining birthrates.
At last night's budget meeting we heard all the usual rhetoric. We saw a few parent reps in support of a fledgling Mandarin program, but the room was otherwise filled with union reps in support of the Vision/COPE trustees war on Victoria. Trustee Jane Bouey argued that they wanted to include as many schools as possible on the closure list so the ones most likely to close aren't singled out. How magnanimous of her. What in fact Vision/COPE are doing is casting as wide a net as possible in order to get more parents in the system upset.
Then I watched as Trustee Mike Lombardi jumped in with a last minute motion to spend an additional $1,000,000 on staffing. Where did the money come from? It's a one-time grant from the Province, so of course BCTF's representatives on the board are going to hire people despite the fact they have no budget past one year. I was incredulous when Chair Patti Bacchus stated that they had enough in reserves to be able to sustain it past one year. So they're using reserve funding for staffing? My gosh, how irresponsible is that?
I also listened to Trustee Sharon Gregson make unfounded accusations against the Education Minister, claiming that Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid was circulating "her own list" of schools to be closed. "Shame!" yelled CUPE union representative Paul Faoro. Then Gregson went on to list how many people would be affected by the budget cuts. Did she talk about kids or communities? No. Gregson listed off all the workers whose lives will be disrupted by changes in staffing.
When it comes to Vancouver's school system Gregson's comments are the most telling. This is not in the slightest about children or parents, this is about union jobs. In the end the budget passed with Vision/COPE voting in favour, and the NPA voting against.
I try to take a glass half full approach in most of my dealings. To me there must be a positive in the loss of a local school next year. I want us to talk to parents and ask them for their priorities and find ways that to achieve them under the roof of one school in our catchment instead of two. I want there to be a legacy benefit to Sir Richard McBride school (the larger K-7 school in the neighbourhood) from the Annex. For example, a fraction of the savings can and should be directed to a capital project at the main school that enhances the community.
Are we hearing these kinds of ideas? Are we listening to parents instead of scaring the living daylights out of them? Certainly not from Vision and COPE. Expect them to play the political card like a violin for months to come. And don't expect them to talk about what's great about Vancouver's public schools, because they never have. Not once.
While I cannot speak to the situation in other communities affected by school closures, my hope is that a bigger school with larger populations will benefit our kids, their parents and our community at large. Critical mass concentrates volunteers for non-curricular programs, aids in fundraising for special projects, and enhances school spirit. If there is a silver lining in the sad occasion of closing school buildings, it's that with more of us in one facility, we can build from that strength.
I don't think I'll be a lone voice on this. Many parents have already said to me that they see the benefits of coming together. That said, I've no doubt that the agitators will try to do everything in their power to create dissent. Lost in all of the rancor will be the needs of children, and our communities.
- post by Mike