In mid-October, Education Minister Mike Bernier fired the Vancouver School Board of Trustees because the Board refused to pass a budget that required debilitating cutbacks. Since that time, accusations have swirled; senior staff have resigned; and shots have been fired in all directions. Who are the real losers? Vancouver's kids, families, and school staff members, who lost a democratically elected leadership team that was genuinely committed to serving our kids.
One question that has come up over and over again since the firing: should it be the role of the school board to act as advocates for public education? Bernier - and others - have suggested that some school trustees were prioritizing advocacy for funding over requirements to pass a balanced budget (ironically, of course, the Trustees were set to pass a balanced budget the same day they were fired). Fighting for better conditions for kids shouldn't be the first priority of the Trustees, they said.
It soon, however, came out that not all trustees were guilty of prioritizing advocacy. NPA trustees, keen to preserve their relationship with the BC Liberals, circulated a letter to supporters and made public comment stating that advocacy needs to take a back seat to "stewardship". Once again, they acted as Christy Clark’s lapdog, and stood up for a government that bafflingly, despite surpluses, continues to sacrifice kids by chiseling away at education budget.
The NPA trustees emphasized that their role was one of stewardship, which, of course, means care. Does standing by while the BC Liberals strip away our schools constitute good stewardship? Is it care, to let kids spend their days in seismically risky buildings? To cut away supports for special-needs kids? To shutter libraries and reduce arts programs? To close neighbourhood schools?
Of course it isn’t. Advocacy is vitally important, especially when facing a government that would prefer to see kids in private schools than public, and makes the financial decisions to prove it. Last week, a group of proud advocates - the BCTF - won a major decision at the Supreme Court of Canada. That decision backs up what all education advocates, including the Vancouver School Board, has known for a long time: that BC Liberals, Christy Clark in particular, has been eroding the public education system by illegally stripping the teachers' contract (and as a result, grossly underfunding the school system and under-serving kids). Advocacy should have been the only possible response in the years since 2002. No one should have stood back and watched while a system is stripped. The NPA trustees were willing to.
In a complex and challenging world - just look at what is going on south of the border - education is more important than ever. Patti Bacchus, one of the fired trustees, recently said, "Education is the solution to just about every problem we face". We couldn't agree more. Time and again Christy Clark and the BC Liberals have failed our system.
While we’d like most to see the BC Liberals replaced this May with a new provincial government, one that is committed to pre-2002 funding levels, a good start would be to bring back an elected school board, empowered to advocate. Together with all of BC's education advocates we call on the BC Liberals to re-establish a democratically elected board of trustees, act in good faith following the Supreme Court ruling, and invest in our kids. And we at OneCity encourage all Vancouverites to vote for school trustees who promise to advocate and hold the Provincial government to account.