RICHMOND, B.C. – Representatives of 25,000 school support staff are concerned about the future of support services in schools if the proposed changes to school governance are passed before Christmas.
Debbie Taylor, a special needs assistant from Campbell River, B.C., Chair of the CUPE K-12 committee made it clear that her committee is “ intensely concerned” with the cryptic statements coming out of the Ministry of Education, especially those that suggest service regionalization, possible expansions or reductions of school trustee responsibilities and “greater choices” in service provision.
“The government seems to treat the process of consultation like a game. Some groups are in but others not. At the moment, CUPE school support staff are out when it comes to being consulted about the future of the services we deliver within the public education system.”
Taylor is referring to issues, widely reported in the media, emanating from an October 22 meeting between Deputy Minister of Education Emery Dosdall and members of the BC School Trustees Association.
Leaked copies of Mr. Dosdall’s power point presentation as well as a follow-up letter sent to School Board Chairs from BCSTA chair Penny Tees refer to a new mandate for the Ministry of Education.
Ms. Taylor is concerned that neither school support workers nor the majority of British Columbians have been asked to participate in or comment on proposed changes to the Minstry of Education’s mandate.
“CUPE staff and most parents have been excluded from the Parent Advisory Councils (PACs) set up two years ago by government mandate in school districts across the province. We think we’ve been left out because we raise too many uncomfortable issues like reduced funding for children with a variety of special needs and the state of safety and cleanliness in many B.C. schools, “ says Taylor.
Colin Pawson, Co-Chair of the Committee and a grounds keeper from the Delta School Board adds, “We know full well that whenever any provincial government body speaks about choice in support service delivery privatization is what they are really talking about.”
Pawson is further distressed at the absence in most of the recent Ministry documents, of any acknowledgement of support staff and what they bring to school culture and environment.
“By not formally acknowledging us perhaps they think we’ll go away,” says Pawson. “But that is not a likely outcome.”
CUPE, like many school trustees and others is concerned with the timing of the Ministry’s so-called consultation process—less than one month before school board elections when many trustees and public education activists are otherwise occupied.
Nanaimo committee member Marlene Crozier says, “Support staff have been fighting against proposed cuts to school days, to special needs support, to custodial and bus services ever since 2001. While we, in Nanaimo and Cowichan have worked hard with our trustees to minimize the effects on students and support staff many communities have not been so lucky. It looks to me that what we see coming through Shirley Bond’s [B.C. Minister of Education] deputy is an attempt to separate support staff from the school community, including parents and to wear down the services we [support staff] provide.”
Taylor and her committee are working at building greater public awareness of the perils of increased privatization in the public school system. “Just look to hospitals to see the results of privatized support services, and people will know why it is important to speak out and stop further erosion of school support services.”
“We know,” says Taylor, ” that Barry O’Neill, CUPE BC president is working at setting up a meeting with Shirley Bond to discuss her government’s intentions regarding K-12 support staff. Perhaps such a meeting will provide more clarity on the meaning of rumours, power point presentations and the B.C. government’s intentions.
Information: Debbie Taylor, (Campbell River) Chair 250-830-7919, Co-chair (Delta) Colin Pawson, Marlene Crozier (Nanaimo) 250-616-7104, Glen Bohl (Langley) 604-868-2965, Nola Couture (Vernon) 604-308-8764, Penny Jackson (Kootenays) 250-258-8492, June Kiaser 250-312-2876, Lorraine Prouse 250-563-9129, Rafe Sunshine 250-652-4404, Sandi Taylor 250-996-1534.