It took a few days but Education Minister Shirley Bond has addressed the one sided fact providing of the last few days from the Teachers Federation regarding the School based management issue. As faithful Podunk readers know, this issue has been percolating locally for a couple of weeks with a number of items appearing in the local paper warning parents and tax payers of the many changes that may be on the way. In three previous postings on March 8, the 27th of February and on February 25th we explored the issue from the perspective of the BCTF and local union. It was not until The March 8th edition (which we explore below) that a reply was made by the government.
The BCTF and the local teacher’s union carried that debate for most of that two week period as they provided their take on what may be to come, while the Government declined to give their version of the plans. Finally on Wednesday, they decided to give their side of the story, to a point.
Without really fleshing out the project for us, Bond took the concept of a “secret agenda” to task and tried to shoot down a few of the BCTF’s worst case scenarios. She called the idea that the government would use the issue as a premise to shut down schools as “appalling”, hinting that the new system might provide more opportunity for local involvement.
One thing becomes clear from this ping pong game of he said, she said, she said, he said. Both sides are not communicating any better now, than they did at the time of the labour disruptions of September. It would be nice if they could at least discuss the issue together before they start the rumour mills running across the province.
Basing arguments on facts is always preferable than the use of conjecture and suspicions. Let’s hope the two sides can get together and explain the project properly to all stakeholders, from school board trustees, to teachers and principals and those forgotten folks the students, parents and taxpayers of the province.
For the benefit of those that missed the article in the Daily News last Wednesday, here it is in its Podunkicized format.
‘NO SECRET AGENDA' FOR EDUCATION MINISTER
By James Vasallo
The Daily News
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
There are no clandestine attempts by the B. C. government to eliminate school boards or create a “corporate model” of public education, says the minister of education.
“We don’t have a secret agenda,” said Minister Shirley Bond, “I don’t have a plan written in my desk.
“(But) we are big believers that the closer decisions are made to the classroom, the better they are.”
Bond was responding to allegations by local teachers and BCTF President Jinny Sims that a voluntary “school-based management” pilot project would open the door to the end of local school boards and disadvantage rural school districts.
School-based management calls for principals and parents to make decisions on how to spend funds in schools, rather than elected school trustees.
“In my visits to schools recently I’ve actually seen the practice taking place without any direction (from the province),” said Bond of parents setting priorities in schools. “This best practices.”
As a result of unspent funds from the teachers’ protest action last September, money was distributed earlier this year in two blocks, one to schools and one to school boards. Bond said the direct funding to schools was received very positively and has opened many up to the idea of school-based management.
“Schools actually had the ability to make the decisions that would affect their students,” she said, adding that at $5 billion funding for public education is at its highest level ever both overall and per capita.
“At the end of the day, this is what we want.”
In response to Sims’ concerns that the issue was not brought first to the Learning Roundtable, Bond said she would love to bring it to the table as well as address a number of other issues if she was given the chance.
“I can’t get these issues on the table because there’s pressures, and rightly so, on class size and composition,” she said. “I find it surprising that this idea somehow could be perceived as negative, particularly since the constant concerns of teachers at the table is that they are not being included in decision making.
“They could take their specific needs to the school (under this system) but when the opportunity presents itself … there’s criticism.”
The Minister of Education takes exception to the idea that rural schools would bear the brunt of a school-based management system and asks the public to learn more about idea before they believe what they hear. She adds that reports that funding would be on a strictly per capita basis are incorrect and that in the case of School District 57 (Prince George) where a similar system is now used, additional funds of $150,000 each are distributed to schools in need.
“It’s absolutely appalling that it would be suggested that closing schools is one of the things behind this,” said Bond.
“If it’s your school, your community, your children, you should have the opportunity to be involved in this decision making.”
The issue was brought to the attention of the school board last evening by Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union president Marty Bowles.
“Any discussions about re-purposing are being done behind closed doors, because we haven’t heard anything about it,” he said. “They are currently looking for five more districts to pilot this model… (and) I hope this district will not take them up on it because it is clear that this is a step down to the elimination of school boards.”
Bowles says the whole program is around data and finance and not students. Trustee Brian Johnson brought forward a motion to immediately create a “shadow” learning roundtable and meet with all education partners locally on the issue. The motion, supported by Johnson and Trustee Louisa Sanchez, was defeated by trustee’s Russell Wiens, Janet Mirau and Bart Kuntz because they felt it created an unnecessary committee. The issue will be taken up as part of the district’s policy committee.