Bullied board makes cuts

March 9, 2016

I believe virtually everyone on B.C.’s Gulf Islands had an opinion on whether to stay with the five day school week or switch to four days in 2004.

Students would no longer succeed in sports, the Arts, and in life, in general. Children on the water taxis would not see the light of day all winter long. Parents would have to abandon their jobs.  Young people would join street gangs to rival those in the Bronx.

Well, I exaggerate a bit. My son Luke was in Grade 12 and was working at Thrifty Foods. He saw the advantage of being able to pick up hours on Friday with the school week going down to four days.

I was leaning on the side of maintaining the five day week because it would avoid long school days especially for kids coming from the other Southern Gulf Islands to Salt Spring Island. Yet I knew that with one year to go, Luke might benefit more from the four day week and who was I to get in the way of him making extra cash.

That year I attend the Gulf Islands Film School on Galiano Island and persuaded the three others in my group to make our short film about the school week controversy. When we finally contacted the island’s school board member, she talked of a dream she had in which the film school’s head was asking her questions about the shortened school week.

It is safe to say that many were feeling quite derailed when it came to mental balance because of the controversy.

Here is one massive story, I wrote about the topic:

Village Views

Friday, April 23, 2004

Bullied board makes cuts

by Tanya Lester

A four-day Gulf Islands school week is not a fait accompli, but the i’s are almost dotted and the t’s are almost crossed as the school board grapples with declining enrollment and the Gordon Campbell government’s under-funding.

Coupled with the Phoenix Elementary building closure, the four-day week could hasten declining enrollment as parents react to the cuts by returning to home schooling. Others could move off the Gulf Islands, especially if their jobs are in jeopardy. Those who can afford it might turn to private education but the fear is public education will become mediocre for those on low incomes creating a two-tier-system that benefits the wealthy.

School District 64 trustees voted through a notice of motion at its April meeting. If the motion is passed on May 30, days will be sliced off the school calendar with an hour tacked on to every other school day. A $350,000 budget cut needs to be met in 2004-2005 while $750,000 must be shorn in 2005-2006 for a $1.1 million total.

Other division cuts appear to be a done deal. The Phoenix Alternative Elementary Program will no longer be housed in a separate building. It will be merged into Salt Spring Elementary School as a “school within a school” in September. (At the meeting, both trustee Judith Boel and District Parent Association Committee (DPAC) chair Kimberly Lineger suggested this budget cut could be postponed for a year.)

There will be a reduction of one teacher’s salary that will most likely affect Fernwood Elementary School. Mayne Island will lose its school bus.

“This has been really awful in lots of ways,” said Judith Boel, the Salt Spring trustee who voted against the four-day week and the Phoenix move. “We’ve done a lot of soul searching … I don’t want to be another person on the food chain eating those below me.”

Boel’s reference to the provincial Liberal government’s educational cutbacks was an echo of Chip Chipman’s sentiments. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) representative pointed out that area schools operate on the three R’s principle — respect, responsibility and reaching up. Bullying is not accepted in the schools.

“What I see here is our elected officials are being bullied into making a decision,” Chipman said. CUPE support staff including janitors, bus drivers, administrative assistants and special education aides will be monetarily affected by the school week reduction. Several people at the board meeting pointed out CUPE workers may leave the division, taking their children with them, if they are victim to the school week cuts.

Gulf Islands Parent Association Council (PAC) and DPAC representatives met with Dr. Emery Dosdall, Deputy Minister of Education last Friday in an attempt to turn the tide on the school district’s cuts.

Spearheaded by long time parent activist Marilyn Marchshall, PAC and DPAC representatives from Salt Spring, Galiano and Pender hurriedly came together to meet with Dosdall at the school district.

Gulf Islands Secondary School (GISS) DPAC representative Pauline Foley said parents covered many areas of concern at the meeting. Related to the four-day school week, they talked about students being unable to focus on schoolwork with the extra hour added to each day.

Student Amy Glode-Marchant, thinks the shorter weel will cram too much into fewer days. “I really don’t want my high school experience to be making sure homework is done, never having any free time and teachers constantly getting annoyed at other students for slacking,” she said.

Foley said fears have been expressed, especially for outer islands children, around safety issues for those who will leave home in the dark and return in the dark.

The shortened week is also seen as threatening music, drama, sports and other extracurricular activities. “School sports will stop,” said John Foley, in a telephone interview. “Take sports away, you’re asking for trouble.”

The football coach explained students getting out when it is already dark in the winter will mean a variety of soccer and football teams will be scrambling for scheduled time on the single lit field between GISS and Salt Spring middle and elementary schools.

Foley, who, along with Pauline, parents five teenagers, also said students who go off island to play hockey or soccer will “get out too late.” These activities are beneficial for young people in “blowing off steam” and giving them a positive identity.

Instead, the young people will be unsupervised for one extra day a week which could even lead to more crime. Parents with younger children will have the added expense and juggling involved in getting daycare for an extra weekday. Single parents will be hit hardest.

Pauline Foley said there are alternatives to cutting down the school week and taking the Phoenix building away. She indicated 91 percent of the current budget goes to teachers’ salaries. Perhaps the school board could encourage teachers, who would be on the high end of the pay scale, to retire early by offering them a good pension package.

Other parents have put forward the idea of cutting administrators instead of the school week.

Foley said there is also support for keeping Phoenix as it now is. Without alternative schools, she said, school education will cater more and more only to the “put up your hand, stand in line” mentality.

Phoenix parent Gail Glode is opposed to the move. “I don’t think it’s possible to colour outside the lines,” she explained. “You can’t be outside the box when you’re inside the box.”

Glode, who homeschooled her three children for many years, chose Phoenix when her oldest child wanted to begin the move into the public school system. “It had the benefits of going to school without the trappings,” she said. Forming a homeschooling cooperative is an idea she might pursue. Parents could teach based on a variety of special talents and expertise. Children could benefit from a variety of learning styles in an environment less structured than mainstream school . These are needs Phoenix has been filling.

Glode also pointed out, if support staff jobs will be lost with the Phoenix move anyway, an option could be parents volunteering to do janitorial work, etc. This would reduce expenses incurred by the building and contribute to the school division’s reductions.

To have a school on Drake Road where affordable housing might be built is an asset, she said.

Many parents and students also turn to Phoenix as a harbour from the mainstream system that sometimes is less accpeting of children who are different or who are not high scademic achievers.

Anna McColm said she turned to Phoenix when one of her children had problems academically in a mainstream school. Her daughter was “losing confidence fast,” said McColm. At Phoenix, “it was reversed. She was given such a boost. It took away that sense of feeling dumb.”

Parents are not going to “turn around and go away” concerning these cuts. Some would like the school board to use techniques such as consensus and brainstorming to arrive at creative solutions to the problem. This still could happen….


To read more posts on a variety of topics on this blog go to writingsmall.wordpress.com and tealeaf56.wordpress.com

Tanya is an intuitive/psychic counseller; a house sitter and a reiki master. To find out more about her services go to teareading.wordpress.com or pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google. Or contact her directly at tealeaf.56@gmail.com or 250-538-0086.

Tanya’s books are: Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader (can be purchased from the author or from amazon.com), Friends I Never Knew, Dreams and Tricksters and Women Rights/Wtites.  All of these titles are in library systems and the last three are in the Legislative Library of Manitoba.



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