LETTER: Neither silent nor neutral

I am writing this letter in response to the letter which sought my position on the current situation in BC public education.

In response to Todd Solarik’s letter (September 10)

I am writing this open letter in response to the open letter you wrote me,  in which you are seeking my position on the current situation in BC public education.

The superintendent is the employee of the local board of education. Senior staff, principals and vice-principals are management employees of the district. Therefore, it is inappropriate for us to speak out on the issues you have identified in your letter. As outlined in policy, the district’s position on the matters you have outlined is determined by the school board and expressed by the board chair or designate.

In addition to governing the district by developing local policy, setting an annual budget that is aligned with educational priorities and addressing local concerns, the board of education advocates to government, other education partners and the public on matters affecting public education.

This board of education has been neither silent nor neutral on any of the concerns you have expressed in your letter. I assure you there have been many public, open discussions in the board room about the very challenges you have identified. The Kootenay Lake board of education has made public statements and sent several letters to various levels of government, the BC School Trustees Association and the BC Teachers’ Federation. The board has had an active voice through the BC Trustees Association and contributed both in leadership and in action planning through that organization. Similarly this board has been represented, provided leadership and been an active voice through the BC Public Employers Association.

Regarding the comments you made in your letter, I can offer the following observations:

 

Bargaining:

The board of education has stated that it expects both the government and BCTF to bargain with true intent to achieve a settlement. It has also stated that it will not support a legislated deal. This board feels that “the continued media confrontation both from the government and the BCTF are further eroding the public’s belief in, and commitment to, our high quality public education system.” Further, the board has expressed significant dismay and dissatisfaction with the current bargaining structure.

 

Wages:

On the issue of wages, the board has adamantly stated that it believes our employees deserve a wage increase, and that this increase should be fully funded by government.

 

Funding:

This board has been vocal in its belief that “Increased funding for districts and classrooms, in particular, is a priority for our board. Funding levels have not been adequate to support the needs of our students. We know that an additional reason for the low morale and frustration of employees at this time is because of their continued struggle in the classroom to provide what our students need.”

The Kootenay Lake board of education was the only board in the province of BC that refused to submit a “savings plan” to demonstrate how local savings would fund a wage increase that had been negotiated by the government. This board said very clearly that:

q The K-12 sector cannot fund savings plans without reducing service levels:

q We expect to see a contribution from the Ministry of Education from within the provincial budget to fund a fair wage increase to the employees’ within the education sector.

It appears that you may also be unaware that the board has made strong statements regarding the funding of services to support special needs students, and the structures for that funding.

Further, the board has challenged decisions to redirect public funds to independent schools, stating that this action undermines the principles of public education.

 

Facilities:

Here again, the board has made several public comments about the condition of our facilities and what it sees as a lack of adequate funding to properly maintain them. The board has embarked on an ambitious facilities review to closely examine our current facilities and whether they are meeting the needs of our students and employees. The board will examine all facilities through several lenses, including educational, economic, operational and strategic perspectives. As you know, a rebuild for Trafalgar Middle School has been at the top of the capital plan over several years.

No matter what we believe, we all have in common an indelible commitment to improve the future of who we are and to make opportunities for our children and youth. And I, for one, can think of no cause more noble or worthy. In spite of the legacy of disruption which will scar our reputation in the history books I am convinced that we also have the potential to leave a legacy of innovation, creativity, imagination, resiliency and academic success that will literally change the world.

 

Jeff Jones

Superintendent of Schools

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