No money for schools? Then conduct a $25,000 poll!

Post by Mike Klassen in


Ipsos-Reid landed the $25,000 VSB School Survey contract to poll 18-34 year olds

Where to begin.

In my opinion Vancouver's public education has never been more poorly governed in its history. This board have no management skills, no tact when it comes to dealing with senior levels of government, and they have no ideas to help make schools run more efficiently in the face of declining enrolment.

The Vision/COPE Trustees and local NDP MLAs have played the emotions of Vancouver parents like a fiddle for months. I've watched as formerly apolitical parents have become mobilized by the offices of NDP MLAs, who pretend to care about public education while offering not one original idea on how to make our system work better.

To add to this political theatre is perhaps the most callous idea put forward by the Vision/COPE school trustees yet. In the face of a multi-million dollar debt load and no plan to create savings for schools, they have approved a $25,000 expenditure for a poll (see a full copy of that poll here) that put simply does nothing for education, and everything for the political prospects of Vision Vancouver and COPE.

The NPA School trustees Ken Denike & Carol Gibson, along with new NPA Trustee candidate Sophia Woo sent out a joint press release on Tuesday about their alarm and disappointment at this self-serving political expense by the board. Denike and Gibson commented about the fact that the poll targeted 18-34 year olds, who are well outside of the demographic for most stakeholders. Parents today are having children between the ages of 30-39 on average, putting most parents with kids in Vancouver schools at 35+.

Sophia Woo stated that it was clearly a "political" poll, and that the Board should call it off. Indeed the questions reflect the desperation of Vision Vancouver as they drop in public opinion polls. Are there questions that will help the quality of Vancouver's education? No. Is there a lot of demographic and geographic info being sought, and leading questions? You bet.

By spending less than $25,000, VSB rules allow the Board to make this expense without a vote of approval by Trustees. Denike seems to think that it was the limit set by the VSB that determined how much the board would spend on the poll. Indeed, the more money you spend on a poll, the larger the sample size you can afford.

Neither Denike nor Gibson knew that a public opinion poll was a part of the Board's consultation budget. And both of them were horrified to learn only yesterday, after the "final" draft of the poll questions had been completed, that the board would spend $25,000 on it!

Feeling that she entirely cut out of the process by the Vision board, Gibson contacted Chair Patti Bacchus by email. It was a testy exchange that Gibson provided me some samples of. Gibson asks Chair Bacchus about the poll last Monday...

Patti I do not recall the issue of such a survey coming before the board as a separate item, neither do I recall discussion of cost to the district. I assume that this cost will be itemized within the school closure process budget to permit stakeholders to evaluate whether the survey and its results add value to the consultation process or are merely an expensive way politically to determine the approval rating for COPE/VISION in an election year. Carol Gibson

Fair comment, or so you would think. Gibson is a fellow Trustee, and should be permitted to know what money is being spent at the Board's discretion. Gibson would also like to know how the data will be used to improve education, given the slant of the questions.

Bacchus shrugged off Gibson's concerns, saying that the poll was a part of the larger consultation budget, and that the board needs to hear from people outside of the school closure meetings. Then Bacchus further suggested that Gibson's alarm about the poll was as a result of her mental health, asking her to take care of herself and mind the stresses of the job...

I know this is an incredibly challenging process for all trustees and may I respectfully advise that our students and parents deserve our full focus and effort to reach the best decisions possible in this situation. That will be best served if we can focus on the difficult task at hand, using the best information and feedback was can access, instead of making highly inappropriate and diversionary political accusations about decisions that have been previously discussed and approved by the board.

I hope you’re taking care of yourself Carol. I understand you may be tired and stressed — I’m sure we all are. So let’s focus on what’s best for our students and schools and doing the best we can with this challenging situation.

Patti Bacchus

Nice to know that Patti, doing her best Nurse Ratched impersonation, is so concerned for Carol's health. Gibson reacted calmly and to the point in response to Bacchus' insulting and arrogant remarks.

Patti, Thank you for your concern. I am neither tired nor stressed.

...If the Board is committing public funding to conduct such a survey, it is within the fiduciary responsibility of the Board as a whole to ensure that the results of such a survey are useful, objective, reliable, and most critically free of any perceived political bias.

A full-page ad in today's 24 Hours newspaper promoting private education. Here's an idea. Why not have the Minister of Education, all school trustees, key leadership from the VSB and the BCTF all attend the Private School Expo later this month? Perhaps they'll learn a few things about marketing public schools better, and how to improve services? – click for larger

The polling questions are so transparently political, I'm absolutely amazed that VSB Superintendent Steve Cardwell would not be raising hell on this. Cardwell, who was hired by the current board, has yet to publicly prove his ability to stand up to Vision/COPE's politics. He must be aware that with a year left and the polls collapsing for Vision, that he must do his best to stand free of Board politics.

The poll, aimed at those both above and below the age of 35 (Vision's base voters are largely under 35) asks questions like:

  • How would you rate the performance of the Vancouver school board?

How about asking "what are your perceptions of Vancouver's public education?"

Then the survey goes on to ask...

  • Have you heard anything about budgetary issues with the School Board?

Then the poll taker is required to explain school funding and the Province's part in it, clearly a tactic to create higher political awareness in the public. Since you're out there spending the Board does not have, why not ask these questions instead?

  • Are you satisfied with your child's schooling in Vancouver?
  • What currently unavailable programs do you think your child's school would benefit from?
  • Have you considered enrolling your child in private/independent schools? Or, is your child currently enrolled in private school? If so, why have you chosen private over public education?
  • Is daycare important to you?
  • What do we need in our schools and,
  • What can we lose in our schools?

Here are a few questions that would enable our leadership at the VSB to craft a system for the 21st Century. It would challenge all stakeholders, including the recalcitrant Teacher's Federation, to look at ways to improve the system. Answers to these questions will enable us to see current and future needs. Instead we're trying to convince ourselves that "special programs" will help already moribund school settings to attract students.

But nobody asks the question, where are those kids going to come from? if you put in a special arts or language program in one school, that will just draw away kids from already under-enrolled schools.

The questions in the $25,000 Vision poll are clearly aimed at doing political profiling. They ask for postal codes, ages, incomes, levels of awareness on the VSB itself and levels of satisfaction. None of this info will help education, but it will sure help out Vision Vancouver's election war room.

What we have is a situation where the lack of leadership is setting our school system back in Vancouver. This poll is so crass and unnecessary that Vision and COPE should be ashamed of themselves. Don't expect them to be apologizing anytime soon though, folks.


The Vancouver Sun's Pete McMartin is also trying to understanding the problems within our school system. You can read his latest column on this topic here.

- post by Mike


I notice the writer of this is concentrating on the politics as well with the traditional partisan bashing and himself not offering any constructive suggestions himself.

Robert, thanks for your note. I've written several times here about the VSB struggles. I've criticized them in an earlier post where I put forward some ideas To read earlier posts use the term "vsb" in our Google search.

I presented also at one of the recent public meetings regarding school closures, providing my suggestions in person. Also note my idea above of having public education stakeholders attend the Private School Expo. We could learn lots from the skillful marketing of the independent schools.

My "partisan" commentary pales in comparison to the actions of the board, and in particular this costly poll, so it's worth keeping some perspective on this.

Did you read the same article I did? Mike suggested how the poll could be structured apolitically, including specific questions that would actually be pertinent to improving education in Vancouver. Who's wearing the blinkers here?
PS:The BCTF is an entrenched outdated oligarchy who's record on child abuse, which is just the tip of the iceberg, is DISMAL.

PPS As the city becomes greener and cleaner (supposedly) it is also becoming too expensive to raise a family in. School closures are going to continue as the city's demographic shifts. That's a fact of life. VSB'S current posturing got it what it deserved-the back of Victoria's hand.

The Thought of The Day

"I am thinking, there should be no statute of limitations for Assholeism!"

Tell you what, Bacchus's speech gives solidity to pure farts.

If you didn't know, the newest campaign making the rounds in Vancouver's public schools is called 'STOP THE GERMS FROM SPREADING'
When informed about it, Patti Bacchus responded

' Who said that? It is slanderous, it is unfair and all of us from Vision will fight it, no matter what!...'

She couldn't finish her statement as someone from the audience waved a tube of Lysol at her.

Think about the kids and their parents, from the five East Vancouver schools targeted for closure.

This Vagabond School Board is attacking them psychologically, financially, and they are doing it by using the kids. It is not only despicable and completely wrong, it's criminal!

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

I don't know much about Patti Bacchus but it would seem from her comments she might have a mental disorder or could it be just the stress of all these late night meetings. If that's the case I don't blame her.

Meetings should end at 11 at the latest.

Very sad that main stream media did not pick up on this.

Very sad that main stream media did not pick up on this.

I guess that is what happens when most of the journalists are gone and they are replaced with the lowest priced alternative. Thank God for online journalism, print is on it's deathbed and TV and Radio is too busy cutting costs.

As the old adage goes you get what you pay for.

I hope you’re taking care of yourself Carol. I understand you may be tired and stressed — Patti Bacchus

Glissando, thank you for expressing with far more eloquence than anything I could muster, our joint contempt towards Patti Bacchus for her snide comment in her email to a Carol Gibson, a fellow Trustee.

I first met Ms. Bacchus at a Remembrance Day service on November 11, 2008. She struck me as a reasonable and decent person at the time. However, this comment certainly changes my impression of her.

And as for the questionnaire, I must say that I have to agree with those who suggest this School Board has become disfunctional.

@Yuri, you're right to ask that question. To our friends in the MSM who might be reading this, it's not too late to do a story on this shocking waste of $25,000.

Btw, I received a note yesterday from Mike Lombardi who said "he trusts the professionals at Ipsos-Reid to come up with a good poll".

This is not about Ipsos-Reid, Mike. This is about the parameters you've set for the company. If they were asked to conduct a poll that would provide data on how to improve our school system instead of how to improve Vision's image, you might get better questions.

To all the media who will be running off to Gordon Campbell's office today to cover the "protest" by Jenny Kwan on "budget cuts", how about do your audiences a service by showing how hypocritical Vision are.

That was funny. I've got the message. Well done Glissando Remmy!
One more thing, sooner you guys (from the VSB) get rid of the partisan politics at the public school level, and concentrate instead more on education and funding, better you'll get.

If catchment areas are no longer a barrier to choice and parents are even going to the trouble of lying about where they live so that their kids can attend a West Side school (which may only be perceived to offer a better education) then something creative has to be done for those east side schools.

I think I heard the parents from one of the schools slated for closure put forward the idea that their school could be turned into a "specialty" school--in this case, a fine arts school. That would be appealing to a large segment of parents who want a classical curiculum as well as one that nurtures specific talents.

Perhaps that would stenm the tide and reverse the flow of kids whose parents equate property wealth with better schools. I also like the idea as it rebalances the neighborhoods---the West Side schools are now bursting at the seams, according to Pete McMartin's latest column. And it gives schools back to the East Side.

If this leads to the idea of Charter Schools, perhaps that is an idea that needs to be explored some more. In fact now, the current Vancouver school system is running as an ad hoc Charter School, anyway, if McMartin's stories are accurate.

Why not resource those specialty schools properly, regardless of which side of the city they are on? The fantasy that each school in the district is run equally or offers the competencies needed, is laughable. The elementary school experience I had as a kid---3 days of gym per work, fine arts and music the same, seems to have been thrown out long ago.

Top marks to the parents who came up with the idea. They have far more "vision" than Patti Bacchus, Jenny Kwan, the BCTF, et al.

"Tell you what, Bacchus's speech gives solidity to pure farts."
Glissy you rock!

Check out!

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