Today, I did something that I shouldn’t do. Something that never goes well for me, but that I can never seem to resist, even though I know that I’m going to regret it.
And no, I didn’t eat gluten. Or dairy. Or egg.
I read the internet.
Specifically, I read the comments on a news story regarding the Vancouver School Board’s proposed ways to handle a $13 million dollar budget shortfall. Things like cutting elementary music programs. Reducing the number of counselors and psychologists. Eliminating athletic coordinators. Having a “school closure” week in November. Cutting speech pathologists and multicultural workers.
I read comments that left out important details, or misdirected perfectly legitimate anger.
So, I thought I might clear up some of that confusion. Teach the class of the Internet, if you will. Because, even if this class shows very little respect for me, I’m a teacher. It’s what I do.
Below are what struck me as the main arguments raised by the public. I’ve consolidated and paraphrased, so please let me know if you feel I’ve missed the mark; I’ll gladly reassess.
1. “How is the district possibly short of cash when enrollment is dropping?”
Districts are funded on a per student basis. Each student comes with a dollar value on their head, essentially. Let’s pretend that each student is worth $100 to the government budget. Ten students will equal $1000 for the school district. Drop it to seven students and they receive $700. But they still have the same facilities to care for, short of closing schools.
2. “The school board should be thrown out for suggesting these types of cuts.”
Actually, they would get thrown out for NOT suggesting these things. If the trustees don’t balance the budget, they’re fired. Honest. It happened to the Cowichan School Board when they tried to take a stand and say that they needed more funding.
The Vancouver School Board is faced with two options: find places to make cuts or get replaced by people who will. The cuts will happen either way.
3. “BC is spending more than ever on Education, so why are the school districts always whining that there’s no money?”
You’re right. They are. On both counts.
Education funding has received some inflation related bumps over the years, but not enough to keep up with the actual cost of inflation, or the costs that the districts have become responsible for. For example, the court decision stating that school districts can no longer charge students course fees, or rising hydro and gas costs.
You know that double digit rate increase for Terasen gas, approved by the government? Yeah, the schools get to pay that too. Think about how much your gas costs have gone up monthly, now multiply that by the many massive buildings (and portables) that are our schools. It’s just one example of inflation not keeping up with the funding.
4. “What will cancelling classes for a week in November accomplish? You can’t cut their class time!”
Two things here:
1) A school closure week (which we’ve had in my district for a number of years, tacked onto spring break) saves on heating costs. It saves on TOCs and support staff wages. It saves on electricity costs. It basically turns the majority of the school into a ghost town for a week, with the economic requirements to match.
2) Class time isn’t actually cut. It’s divided among the remaining instructional days, extending each day by a few minutes. Students are still in class for the same amount of time. Teachers still teach for the same amount of time.
5. “There are too many lousy teachers. The bad ones should be fired!”
Okay. Let’s say that happens. It wouldn’t solve anything. Replacement teachers would just be hired. Sure, the new teachers might be low seniority and therefor at the lower end of the pay grid, but think about that for a moment.
You now have a bunch of people unemployed, and a ton of retirees depending on pension contributions from a workforce that is now contributing less, as they’re making less. Because, yes, we make huge contributions to the pension fund. It’s not a government golden ticket.
So, sure, evaluate and fire “bad” teachers if you can find a fair and unbiased way to do so. But I’m not sure how that helps the current budget shortfall in any significant way. If anything, it might hurt the general provincial economy, thereby perpetuating current budget concerns.
5. “Go stuff it, VSB! Our kids need music programs!”
I totally agree. But they also need counselors. And speech pathologists. And psychologists. They need all the tools that will help them to be the best people that they can be – the most contributing members of society that they can be. You know, good, well-adjusted people upon whom the future economy of our province – and of our country – depends.
And the school boards want to give that to them. They’ve been providing these services to the best of their abilities. But they can’t have classrooms without teachers. They can’t refuse to heat the schools. They can’t ask parents to help pay for any educational materials. They can’t turn off the power in the buildings. They can’t close schools without available space at and viable transportation options to other buildings.
So please, get mad about the proposed cuts. Get irate. Let the curses fly.
Just make sure you’re sending them in the right direction.