Opinion

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Make some noise

Vernon School District officials came under fire not because of what they did, but for what they didn’t say.

In a press release, the Vernon Teachers Association slammed $1.5 million in cuts.

“These latest cuts come on top of a dozen years of chronic underfunding,” said Heather Malcolm, VTA president.

“Throughout this time, teachers across B.C. have been speaking out and advocating for the programs, services and staffing our kids need. Why are the trustees so silent?”

Now there’s no question teachers are interested in what goes on in the classroom and what happens to their students. But we also have to keep in mind that the union is also fighting for its members to have job security and wage hikes. Labour costs place pressure on the district’s limited resources.

However, Malcolm raises a good point. How can our elected trustees be so quiet when they keep having to swing the budget axe?

“The board continues to be concerned about the devastating annual underfunding of the education system provided by the government,” states a release issued by the Vernon district.

“It is hoped that with continued future enrolment growth and the minister of education’s commitment to examine the funding formula, the district will not need to make future cuts.”

This may all be true, but it’s so passive. Where is the frustration and anger? I know most of the trustees personally and they are good people, working hard on behalf of their constituents.

I know that years of pinching pennies and handing out layoff notices haven’t been easy for them. They are left cutting into the bone, particularly with special needs education, and they understand the serious ramifications for students.

They must be exhausted from the pressure placed on them, but the passion doesn’t come out in their public statements.

Raw emotion may not stop the budget crisis, but at some point, the government needs to know the personal turmoil trustees experience.

Now trustees haven’t been totally sitting on their hands. Letters have been sent to the ministry and there have been meetings with the MLA, but the behind-the-scenes lobbying has proven ineffective. The board is still expected to pull money out of thin air while Victoria keeps hiking Hydro and MSP and salaries.

At this point, a trustee will point out that they are bound by provincial rules and have no choice but to present a balanced budget.

While that is true, there is also an opportunity to take a firm stand.

In 2012, the members of the Cowichan Valley School District board broke the rules and presented a deficit budget. They were fired and replaced by a government appointee.

Then-chairperson Eden Haythornthwaite defended her board’s actions.

“We have empirical evidence of what happens when we simply continue to comply, and we don’t speak up. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no,” she said in the Cowichan News Leader Pictorial.

The mass firings, in the end, didn’t change anything. Cowichan Valley still had a deficit and cuts were made.

But the important aspect to consider is that the Cowichan Valley trustees didn’t just roll over and accept the provincial rules. They took a visible stand on behalf of the people who elected them to office and the students who depended on them for an education.

They got tired having to make difficult decisions while having no real power over funding as Victoria dictates what they get.

I’m not suggesting the Vernon school board get itself fired, but trustees need to openly show the anguish they face every time cuts are made. Such human characteristics will demonstrate solidarity with teachers, support staff and families.

It’s time for trustees to say they are fed up with doing Victoria’s dirty work.

 

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