In spring 2003, our community in Lake Cowichan was invited to participate in a meeting which was billed as a consultation with School District 79. At that gathering, we were asked to consider five options at little tables and report out on the outcomes of our discussions. It never occurred to the board at that time to actually seek solutions outside of those choices — none of which were derived from authentic discussion with the families and staff at the Lake. Each plan was more dramatic and alarming than the last including threats to ship our high school kids to Duncan. In the end, those who attended grudgingly accepted the alternative which sent our Grade 6 and 7 kids to Lake Cowichan Secondary School to form what was termed the ‘school within a school’ and closed Stanley Gordon School. Much of what has happened in the nearly ten years since then suggests the choices offered that evening were steps in a long term scheme for diminishing the system at the Lake. In retrospect, we should have stood our ground right there, demanded the right to set our own goals and develop plans which expressed our highest expectations for our kids and the Lake schools.
On December 8th and January 12th, our communities will again be called to sit around little tables in school gyms around our district and focus their discussion on the condition of our facilities, potential closures, program declines, bussing cuts and property sales. The stage will be set with an appeal to the families emphasising the drop in student numbers, the under utilisation of our schools and the dire state of our budget and therefore our classrooms. Ultimately, the purpose of the meeting is to frighten us into accepting a deteriorated system – more closures, more cuts, more migration for our kids from our communities. But this decline in standards in our schools is created by a formula of under funding from the provincial government – plain and simple. The cut and close tactics have not worked – they were not meant to fix anything. To continue with those ‘solutions’ will only escalate the damage to public education. We must seek a change in funding which signals respect for public education to provide all families in all our communities with the schools we deserve.
The key concern of most ordinary people is the wellbeing of their kids and their communities. Rather than be drawn into a hopeless debate about how to manage on insufficient resources, we must demand funding and resourcing which has as its core objective – the needs of our kids. It is only the government’s insistence on funding based on head count which has created this crisis. Otherwise, a drop in enrolment numbers would merely be a statistic and not an emergency. So meaningful consultation has to go back to the beginning and demand a complete examination of public education funding.
In the absence of an elected board of trustees who will have to face their communities on voting day, this has become even more illegitimate if that is possible.
As we step through the doors of our schools on these dates, it is important we remember one thing about the intentions of the district and its government appointed trustee for these meetings – they are not about enhancing the conditions in our schools or improving public education or being more attentive to our needs or supporting our communities. This is not about making public education more effective or more vibrant … it is simply about engineering our consent to make it less than we deserve.