Lessons from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were on the agenda for Saskatoons school boards, after board officials started considering a public private partnership school.
The boards musing was met with a quick and coordinated response from support staff and caretakers at both the public and Catholic boards. The four CUPE locals organized an unprecedented joint meeting of the two boards to stop the P3 plans from taking shape.
While the city needs new school facilities, CUPE members showed that P3 schools were no answer to an infrastructure funding shortage. There was no shortage of evidence lease-back school problems in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick showed the financial failings of P3 schools, as well as the impact on students and the community. The April 2001 presentation made its mark.
We reacted immediately and its been quiet ever since, says Greg Meldrum, a caretaker and engineer at Mount Royal Collegiate and a CUPE 34 member. But he and other public education advocates arent going away.
We believe lease-back schools have been put to rest for the time being, says Candice Maclean, whos worked as a library technician for 27 years, and is president of CUPE 1948.
Well keep a close eye on it. My gut tells me the threats not necessarily gone away, says Meldrum. During the last provincial election, a Liberal candidate promised to consider lease-back schools.
While lease-backs may be on the back burner, Saskatoon students and parents are under pressure on another front. User fees for everything from textbooks and school supplies to field trips and photocopying threaten low-income students access to education, according to Saskatoon Communities for Children.
SCC says the fees, which average $30 for elementary students, and can be over $100 for high school students, are a significant barrier to participation. Both the Catholic and public school boards are looking at user fees, and while they have made some changes, the situation is urgent.
A joint SCC-University of Saskatchewan study of quality of life in Saskatoon found nearly 27 per cent of the citys children live in poverty. The 2001 report called for the elimination of school fees, and found that school fees and expenses are a hardship to many parents and in some cases, they prevent
children from participating in special classes.