Thursday, January 31, 2008

Focus on school closures leads teachers away from visioning committee

The District’s teachers are taking a walk, disappointed in the terms of the recent interim report to the District Visioning Committee. With a number of conclusions which kept the focus on the prospect of School Closures in Prince Rupert, the teacher’s union felt that the best course of action for the moment for them was to remove their organization from the process.

The teachers union was concerned that the Committee was focusing too much on financials and not enough on the students needs, and admits to being confused as to why a decision to close schools was being made while the District carried a financial surplus

The Daily News featured their concerns and some background on their decision in Wednesday’s Daily News, with a front page story.

By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Pages one and three

Following several months of involvement, the Prince Rupert District Teacher's Union has decided to withdraw from the District Visioning Committee.

Originally formed in September 2007 with the goal of having stakeholders engage in a visioning process to determine school district plans for the next five to 10 years, District 52 teachers said the visioning committee was unable to move beyond a school closure plan.

"The PRDTU went into this with the genuine hope that they could contribute planning for the future needs in our community," said Joanna Larson, president of the PRDTU. "We were very disappointed when the interim report to the board was released and instead of a visioning document, it was really a plan to close schools."

The report was the centre of much debate among trustees at the District 52 school board meeting earlier this month when it was made clear to the board that the PRDTU and the local International Union of Operating Engineers did not feel the position of their members were represented in the interim report. As of the meeting two weeks ago, both unions were considering stepping away from the DVC.

"Some of the representatives at the table have been very vocal that the real purpose of the committee is about saving money," said Larson. "Teachers wanted to address issues such as student safety, achievement, comprehension, high school programs and alternate education."
With the PRDTU now gone from the committee, the DVC is now comprised of members from the Principals Association, the IUOE, the District Parent Advisory Committee, the Aboriginal Education Council, secondary school students and the City of Prince Rupert. Larson said that, even if school closure was the focus, of the DVC, the two most costly buildings to upgrade were not identified for possible closure.

"Two of the schools named in the interim report were selected because the board had already slated them for closure last year. The other school was chosen because it would boost the number of students in the remaining schools to a higher capacity."

"This is what has upset teachers. The board, and now this committee have given no consideration to the education needs of the students in the district with regards to closing these three schools," said Larson.

At the January school board meeting, IUOE Local 882 trustee and recording secretary Colleen Wiens told the board that because timelines for the DVC to deliver their report were short, and because the closure of Seal Cove and Kanata had already been given first and second reading, it was decided by the other committee members to complete the process with a third reading.
"To me, this does not support student achievement, and there were no reasons given for student achievement," she said.

"We are all perplexed as to why a decision like this is being made when it is not financially driven," said Larson. "Our school board had a surplus of over $400,000 last year."

District teachers will be meeting again soon to develop future plans to address this issue, and anyone who wants further information can contact Joanna Larson at 627-1700 or 622-7475.

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