We Noticed: Anti-Bullying Day Letter to George Abbott

Hon. George Abbott, Minister of Education
Room 310
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4

Minister Abbott:

The BC School Trustees Association’s Provincial Council approved a motion Saturday February 25 to urge mediation. The vote passed by a 32-27 margin during a Provincial Reps meeting in Vancouver.  So I can , as a Trustee, stand with the majority of my colleagues in our desire to have this labour dispute settled by mediation. However, I’d be writing even if the motion had not carried.

And I will add my own thought that Supreme Court Judge Stephen Kelleher  would be a good choice for mediator, instead of someone you choose and appoint. Anyone you choose will at this point be seen as someone possibly interested in furthering your agenda.

I am a School Trustee who comes from labour to defend public education.  I believe I understand the government agenda. It is not about the  welfare of students or the preservation and enhancement of BC’s public education system.  It has everything to do with union busting and further steps toward privatization brought on by increasing the level of struggle in public schools..

Working and learning conditions are inextricably related in the public education system. It is outrageous that you have imposed “net zero” on CUPE and on the BCTF, or on any public sector unionized workers.

The so-called hard times citizens hear about, used to justify the  “net zero mandate – and who developed that mandate? Not citizens – have been created by your own party’s policies.

In June 2001 your party, the BC Liberals,  took office and enacted massive tax cuts that transferred wealth to the province’s richest families and individuals, and British Columbia ‘s most-profitable corporations – and seriously diminished  government revenues. Did you think citizens  hadn’t noticed?

We did notice: BC’s corporate-income tax rate was 16.5 per cent before 2001, and today is just 10.0 per cent.

As a direct consequence  BC’s public services – and free public education is a fundamental public service, perhaps the most fundamental  – have  been slowly starved.  Did you think we hadn’t noticed this, either?

We did notice. It’s simple: cut taxes, cut services.

Your party’s approach to legislation is driven by expedience and power. Citizens expect legislation to have a defensible foundation. What is convenient for government is not good enough. The government you are participating in needs a deep rethink of its  economic policy. And quickly.  Meanwhile, the Treasury Board can allow you as Minister of Education to move from net zero and allow BCPSEA [link won’t open this morning] to engage in genuine collective bargaining.

“The economy” is simply a series of human decisions, not a force outside our control, like gravity. Yes, this would reopen other tables. And rightly.

I’m told – admonished even – at every level that as a trustee I’m only a “resource allocator”. Here’s the thing: I’d love to have some resources to allocate – like the 26% of the BC provincial budget that public education was able to use in 1991,not the 15% it gets now. Like the $3 billion your government could put back into public education, the amount your party has taken out of schools  since  2002 as a result of Bills 27 and 28.

We noticed.

The “solutions“ offered by Bill 22, and the $165 million in the Learning Improvement Fund – which sounds like a lot if you’re thinking “household budget and mortgage payment”, but not so much when thinking about school district budgets -don’t come close to dealing with the classroom composition  issues  that affect students and teachers.
A majority of trustees on the School District 61 Board voted to write a letter to you suggesting a removal of the parts of the School Act that refer to Bill 33. I was not among that majority. Bill 33 was no replacement for what your government took  illegally in 2002 but it was better than nothing.  The discrimination issue is a non-starter for most people you will hear from or talk to.  The Duhaime Law Dictionary says in regard to discrimination: Discrimination has the “effect of imposing burdens, obligations, or disadvantages on such individual or group not imposed upon others”. That is clearly not the motivation for or the result of limiting the numbers of students with complex and unusual learning needs in one classroom.

You may think adding Education  Assistants fixes everything. We all know it is less expensive than adding teachers. As a former Reading Recovery teacher who got excellent results in very accountable (but expensive) lessons 1:1 with the “lowest” 10-20% of Grade One students, I understand how “pay now or pay later” works in terms of meeting students’ learning needs. More EAs mean still more challenges as the teacher is responsible for the  learning outcomes of what could be several complicated Individual Education Plans, with no meeting time with EAs, only feel-good recommendations about working together in harmony, and no apparent limits in Bill 22 on  the number of other students  the class.  Turning over the education of the most vulnerable children to more EAs is not necessarily the answer.

Section 93 of the Constitution Act , 1867 enshrines the ultimate responsibility for operating the educational system as a responsibility of the legislature.

Act now to withdraw Bill 22. This deeply flawed Education Improvement Act does not improve education. Did you think citizens wouldn’t notice?

We noticed.

Diane McNally
School Trustee, SD61 Greater Victoria
(writing as an individual; not representing the Board of Education, SD61)
Christy Clark, Premier of British Columbia
Adrian Dix, NDP, Leader of the Opposition
Carole James, NDP Victoria -Beacon Hill
Robin Austin, MLA, Education Critic
Rob Fleming, MLA, Victoria Swan Lake
Maurine Karagianis, MLA , Esquimalt
Lana Popham, MLA, South Saanich
Mike Eso, President, Victoria Labour Council
Tara Ehrcke, President, Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association
John Bird, President, VCPAC
Ann Whiteaker, President,  BCCPAC
Michael McEvoy, President, BCSTA
BCPSEA Bargaining Team c/o Hugh Finlayson
Peg Orcherton, Chair, Board of Education, SD61
Ida Chong, MLA Oak Bay Gordon Head

About Diane McNally