With the uncertainty surrounding the B.C. education system, extra seating was brought in for what was expected to be a “standing room only” situation at the first School District 72 (SD72) board meeting of the year Tuesday.
More than 50 concerned teachers, parents and students filled those extra chairs and jockeyed for position around the edges of the room as the board took their seats.
There were two main points on the agenda that night: To present the letter from the SD72 Board of Education to the B.C. government and presentation and approval of the Strategic Plan that will guide the board’s decisions and direction through 2018.
The open letter to the community, addressed specifically to Premier Christy Clark, Minister of Education Peter Fassbender, BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) Chief Negotiator Peter Cameron and BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) President Jim Iker, addresses the concerns the SD72 board has surrounding the labour dispute keeping schools closed.
According to the letter, “this board has been nothing but respectful and patient while watching this issue continually erode…(but) we now feel that we need to send a strong message of dissatisfaction in the ability to find a resolution to this dispute.”
The language and tone of the letter is tangibly one of frustration, an issue that was addressed at the meeting. Trustee Ted Foster raised concerns that the letter was aggressively pro-teacher, and that the board should adjust the language to be more balanced if wants to claim impartiality.
There was no impartiality to be had, however.
“Although we feel that it is inappropriate to comment or interfere with the teachers’ negotiations on wages and benefits,” the letter reads, “we do strongly support their efforts to advocate for additional resources for the BC Public Education System and for additional services for students in the classroom.”
Those in attendance erupted in applause at multiple points in the proceedings, forcing Chair Michele Babchuck to pause in her reading of the draft. Those gathered responded positively to the statements, “we find it reprehensible that this government chooses to forward their own political gain by bribing the parents of B.C. with their own tax dollars,” referring to the $40/day/child offer made earlier this summer, as well as, “we can no longer sit on the side lines and watch the merry-go-round of media, mis-information and posturing that seems to be impeding a settlement in this dispute and promoting chaos and confusion around the topic. We have been calling for the Government to fully fund public education and bring public confidence back into our system for a decade.”
Babchuck defended the tone and wording after the letter was approved.
“Yes, the wording in the letter is strong,” she said, “but I think the wording is also just.”
She said that if the letter sounds like the board is frustrated, it’s successfully reflecting its overarching attitude.
“In drafting the letter,” she said, “I was trying to reflect the opinions of everybody (on the board).”
She said that throughout the course of job action, the board feels that the role of school district trustees in the bargaining process has been diminished.
“Now that we have had our representatives and our negotiator removed from BCPSEA, we have very much felt like we’ve been sidelined a little bit. It was the thought of the board that they no longer wanted to be pushed to the sidelines,” she said, adding that she believes the response to the letter by those in attendance showed their appreciation for what they’d done, “and I think it reflects their level of frustration around the lack of progress, as well.”
The Strategic Plan
“One of the roles of the Board of Education is to plot the direction of the district,” according to Babchuck, which is why, every four years, the board proposes and approves a Strategic Plan to set out the framework that will guide future and ongoing decisions regarding education in the region.
That proposed plan was passed at the Sept. 9 meeting.
According to Babchuck, the Strategic Plan adopted at the meeting, “is actually a continuation of the previous district Strategic Plan, and what this board has tried to do is to encourage the public to get involved a lot more.
“It’s the foundation that will help us in our budget-setting process, which is very collaborative with our various stakeholders, and how we deliver services to our students, staff, and within our community as a whole.”
The entire Strategic Plan will be available on the School District’s website at sd72.bc.ca for public perusal. Babchuck said one of the most important things for her is that the board be transparent and accountable for the decisions it makes.
“There’s a whole page in the report,” she said, “where I explain the process and how we came to the decisions we made,” adding that when people don’t know the process and reasoning behind decisions, it’s more difficult for them to have any confidence in them. The Board of Education meets again Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m.