Duel: Keep Vancouver’s school trustees, fire the premier instead

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Duel: Keep Vancouver’s school trustees, fire the premier instead

By Petr Pospisil

This week’s topic: Should Premier Christy Clark fire the Vancouver School Board?

After making cuts in 13 of the last 14 years, the Vancouver School Board of Education has finally had enough. Last week, its trustees refused to pass a balanced budget for the first time in 30 years.

The implications are serious. The refusal gives Premier Christy Clark’s government the power to fire the elected board and appoint a special advisor to manage the district’s finances. The wolves now have direct access to one of the largest school districts in the province.

The most effective strategy of privatization has always been to destroy the effectiveness of public services, then promote an alternative. Since their first years in office, the BC Liberals took aim at one of the world’s best public education systems. They slashed funding, and manufactured a state of chaos for parents, teachers, administration, and students. When adjusted for inflation, the Vancouver School Board budget has been leeched by over 7% since 2002. Costs — usually funded by the province — are downloaded to districts, which are already struggling to maintain basic levels of service.

Read Brent’s column here.

In contrast, the provincial government floods private schools with taxpayer funding — rising 37% above inflation since 2005. A secretary of independent schools even sits at the cabinet table.

A decade old University of B.C. study found that undergraduates from public schools outperformed those from the private system. Premier Clark has put in a lot of work since to convince parents to pay for something that used to be free — and better.

While some private schools offer their students in-house massage therapists and four-course meals, B.C.’s public school students lose educational supports, bus services, and arts programs.

As an employee of the Vancouver School Board, I followed the budget consultation closely. Instead of debating how to best serve students, the trustees were forced to decide on how to do the least harm. One could not help but feel sympathy for the nine trustees and empathy for the students and parents that lined up at the microphone to voice their outrage over the cuts to music programs, anti-racism workers, alternative schools, supports for vulnerable youth, and mentors for LGBTQ students.

The government, and maybe my Duel opponent, will cite declining enrolment and the board’s refusal to close schools as the source of the crisis. But many districts with closed schools or enrolment increases still face budget problems. Chronic underfunding, not mismanagement, causes the yearly shortfall. Instead of firing our elected trustees, let’s fire the premier and her party.

Petr Pospisil is an educator, musician, union and social organizer. He studied genetics at UBC and co-created crackshackormansion.com.

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