Perhaps you will be surprised to learn that I am running for my first public office (and it is not as a Green Party candidate). I am stepping forward looking for support to be one of five School Board Trustees for School District 42 representing Maple Ridge.
Please check out my website www.jamesrowley.ca
I see similar problems in education in my province to those in tackling climate change
The main issue is political will and the solution is advocacy.
Both educating our children and taking action on climate change will take money but both will not see a return on investment, politically or economically, for a decade or more. Therefore, the most noble politician in the world would be challenged to invest in these things if it meant running a deficit or raising taxes. In the current political climate such an up-front investment without immediate pay-off would likely mean losing the next election and the chance to serve.
Both issues are fraught with misinformation and misunderstanding. With climate change, it is difficult to convince most people that reducing carbon emissions and fossil fuel dependency can mean a healthier economy and happier population. In our local school district, many people seem to believe that the School Board chooses to cut resources and staff to our schools when, in fact, they have no choice but to return a balanced budget.
For the past two years SD42 has faced a shortfall of about $5 million. In a budget meeting in April 2013, one trustee was brought to tears as they contemplated cutting 35 staff positions, trimming supplies and services and dipping into reserves. It’s an appropriate response if your focus us on what is best for the kids.
If I am elected to School Board I will swear an oath to adhere to the School Act which states that School Boards cannot run a deficit. If they do, as the Cowichin School Board did in 2012, the Ministry of Education will fire the entire elected board and replace them with a single trustee, probably from another district, who will balance the budget. The people will lose their elected voice.
As an act of protest, I don’t think it is worth it. As a means of advocating better funding, it burns bridges. Unfortunately, the other forms of advocacy that the board has tried have not worked and the BC Government continues to underfund the system.
As with climate change, the missing piece is the public. No matter how much science and research; and no matter how many well-founded arguments in letters from the Board of Trustees and more well-founded arguments in letters from the BC School Trustees Association, the government has little incentive to act unless voters stand up, too.
One promise we see at every level of politics now is “putting the economy first” and “balancing the budget”. Action on climate change in this context is seen as frivolous and “a luxury we can’t afford” and education must be restrained “within the affordability zone.” Never mind that BC’s carbon tax and subsidizing home retrofits have both been proven to improve the economy and everybody knows education pays off in the long-term in every way.
The problem with advocating for funding education properly is that there are few votes to be had. My kids won’t be old enough to vote for over a decade. When they reach 19, they will still be in that 19-34 demographic with low voter turn-out, so their voices will carry little clout. Parents of children in school may be forgiven for being too busy working, looking for work or taking care of their kids to fight for what they have a right to believe shouldn’t need fighting for.
My hope, if I have the honour to serve on my local school board, is to join a team that makes the best decisions for our kids and our future, but it is also to help facilitate a new style of advocacy. I want to reach out to our busy parents and that youth demographic that makes up a lot of Maple Ridge and I want to make it easy for them to make their voices heard.
We can’t give up on these things. They are our future.