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Columns: To Save Education We Will All Have To Sacrifice
By Mike Archer. School trustees across the province have been leading an assault on the provincial government demanding more school funding. Parents and teachers are getting on board in what promises to be an ugly fight. It’s the last thing the children need.[Click On Image For Full Story]
Originally Published 04/24/10 On Chilliwack Today.
The Abbotsford School Board last week announced it would reverse a decision taken 8 years ago and return to a one-week spring break. According to an important story by Kevin Mills of the Abbotsford News, “How much was actually saved in recent years is unknown. According to Dave Stephen, communications manager for the school district, there are no current numbers to support either side of the argument. The last time the savings were investigated was approximately five years ago.”
Mills’ piece is important and very educational. It indicates that the board is trying desperately to be seen to be doing something while actually doing nothing of significance to address the issue.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There have been concerns amongst Trustees about the impact on instructional time (caused by the two week Spring Break) particularly with regard to the districtÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more vulnerable learners,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Abbotsford Board Chair Cindy Shafer.
Like most boards, the Chilliwack School Board has been nipping at the edges of its budget with cosmetic changes and, if projected enrollment increases materialize, should fair better than most. Despite that the Chilliwack board is still looking at serious layoffs of both administrative and teaching staff to meet budget. This is ‘real hurt’ and difficult stuff for the administration and the board to accomplish. But it needs to be done.
The Abbotsford board is still nipping at the edges and refusing to come to terms with the reality of the situation.The spat between the Vancouver Board of Education and the Minster of Education sparked the most attention last week when Education Minister, Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid, appointed a special envoy to Ã¢â‚¬ËœhelpÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ the Vancouver Board get its finances in order.
MacDiarmid pointed out that Surrey gets by with less money than Vancouver despite having more students.
Closing Marginal Schools
This is one of the toughest decisions local school boards are facing as across the province enrollment declines rendering some marginal schools unaffordable from a budgetary standpoint.
Those unaffordable, often smaller, rural schools are where the greatest parent anger and protest is also galvanizing.
According to a report on thetyee.ca, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The B.C. Teachers’ Federation running tally now lists 176 school closures with 27 more to close after June 2010, and 29 more threatened with closure.Ã¢â‚¬ÂThe article, by editor Crawford Kilian, also states, Ã¢â‚¬Å“CUPE BC president Barry OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Neill said that there is a serious lack of transparency about public school enrolment and funding and a real concern that government is becoming more confrontational with boards of education.Ã¢â‚¬Â
A survey by Angus Reid Public Opinion found that 81 percent of those polled wanted the government to do more about public education. Seventy-nine percent wanted more funding for the schools, and “Two out of three people did not agree with continued public funding of private schools.”
Political ‘tactics’ are wasted
There is a serious danger that all sides in the confrontation will become much nastier as the fight for dwindling resources heats up. Based on the ugly history of education debates in BC as all sides claim to be fighting Ã¢â‚¬Ëœfor the childrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ this one is likely to be nastier than most.
The usual tactics employed by all sides will serve only to inflame and derail the process. If we can focus on a few facts we may be able to come out of this debate with something resembling a better education for our children.
1. The provincial government is cash-strapped and is not in a position to throw more money at the problem.
2. Parents want more money for their childrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s education but donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to be the ones providing the money thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s needed.
3. Local school boards have become large, sometimes inefficient, bureaucracies that, together with unionized teachers eat up the overwhelming majority of the money being spent on education.
4. A surprising and significant number of school boards are facing declining enrollment.
We ought to have known long ago that eventually the cycle of constant growth and endless possibilities our politicians at all levels sold us was going to end. It appears weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re there.
If we accept the above four points we have few options other than to cough up more money to feed an inefficient system that is failing Ã¢â‚¬â€œ higher taxes, or demand sacrifices across the board, for the sake of the children, and find a more efficient and sensible means of teaching our children.
Sacrifice isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a concept that politicians are very good at selling. Nor is it a concept unions use other than to explain increases in dues. Bureaucrats donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t usually like the sound of the word because it usually means layoffs and downsizing. Last, but not least, parents only see bills they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t afford and much prefer to talk about overpaid bureaucrats and politicians.
Confrontation is no solution
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why confrontation isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going to solve this dilemma and why everyone is going to have to give.To rescue the education system in BC we are all going to have to sacrifice:
1. Taxes will have to increase in order to provide the provincial government with more funds for education. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s either that or emergency rooms are going to have to close in order to move money from healthcare to education.
2. School boards are going to have to amalgamate and centralize in order to provide real economies of scale that cut the ridiculous cost of turning on the lights and administering the system.
3. Teachers are going to have to decide whether layoffs or paycuts are their preferred method of sacrifice.
4. Trustees are going to have forget their political ambitions and work together with the provincial government and other school boards to come up with a solution to budget overruns without simply asking for more. Volunteering to take a paycut would demonstrate a real commitment to the children. Offering to do their jobs on a volunteer basis would make the point more convincingly.
Parents, who pay the bills, have had enough of all those in the system who get well paid, many better than most parents, to provide a decent education to our children. If the old system can no longer be sustained this is not really a question of money but one of political will and honest commitment to Ã¢â‚¬Å“the children.Ã¢â‚¬Â
We donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need more political battles to be won or lost over who is going to get the lionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s share of our money. We need solutions that will benefit our children.