If you say the word policy to most people — and I was certainly one of them — you can cure insomnia in a flash, but as a school trustee, I learned very quickly policy creation, revision and improvement are the heartbeat of any elected body.
For those elected to care for our schools, policy rescues us from our prejudice, our self interest and our lesser inclinations. Policy is exciting. Over the years, Cowichan School District has nurtured a wide range of policies and bylaws which help us govern and provide our community with a profound sense that we can all expect equal process.
Every child, parent, employee and community member stands in the shelter of these policies. Hand in hand with the School Act, civil and criminal legislation and collective agreements, the policies of an elected body — if followed — serve us equally. In Cowichan, it has been the practice for trustees to develop and revise policy with our partners in the school system (our employees, our parents, our students and more recently aboriginal organizations) all under the wing of a Policy Committee which met monthly.
This collaboration has been valuable. It allows our policies to reflect the diversity of interests, experience and knowledge we are lucky enough to enjoy in our valley. Our trustees — I am one of them — are no longer at the table. We have been fired for simply attempting to appeal the allocation we received from our province as inadequate. Of course the Ministry of Education has put their own man in place to sign off on the decisions now made by senior staff. You would think they would satisfy themselves with having free reign without the inconvenient interference of community but evidently, that is not sufficient.
It is the intention of the current unelected people to gerrymander our policy book. In order to appear to be doing this appropriately, they are set on Oct. 3, to pass amendments to Policy 1500: Policy Development which will place the authority for changing all district policy strictly in the hands of the board.
In times past, if a revision was to be made or deemed necessary it would be referred to our Policy Committee. The Policy Committee would consider the changes and seek further comment from the community before making recommendations and sending them back to the trustees. Thus, by the time trustees saw the changes they could be assured the outcome had been the result of consultation.
The draft changes now being tendered by the senior staff include a provision which would allow modifications to be made to any policy without any public consultation (and it actually says this in so many words) as long as a two thirds majority of the board can be achieved to this end. These very changes had already been suggested by senior staff to previous boards who rejected them as undemocratic. Apparently, the efficiencies this course offered was not as enticing to those who were elected by the community as it now is to those who are not. We will now witness unilateral changes to our precious policies and practices.
A single unelected person who will have no trouble securing a two-thirds majority of himself will transform policies created and honed over many years. How can anyone truly believe the changes the current unelected managers seek will improve on the views of those who are most effected by the codes the district has operated under?
However, there is still an opportunity. We have been allowed to comment on this harsh path and if you think you cannot entrust unfettered changes to our school closure, property disposal, delegation and committee membership policies among many others, to people who will never face the citizens in an election, tell the Cowichan School District. And do it before Sept. 26. It may be your last chance for some time to come.
-Eden Haythornthwaite, Former chair of the Cowichan School Board