Open Letter to Clarence Hansen, Chair VSB

Dear Mr. Hansen,

I would like to convey to you some of my thoughts and concerns that have emerged as the public process of consultation has developed these past few weeks. I would also like to convey to you my personal perspective on the importance of rebuilding our schools as is described in the EFR phase 1 document.

There has been much discussion and commentary within our communities and in the various public media. As this discussion has proceeded the public face of the issue appears to have become a story about ‘what will happen to a small westside annex as a result of the intransigence of a large corporate institution (UBC) combined with bureaucracy locked into a faulty process (VSB). Yet, such a representation is not supported in the empirical facts of the situation.

From my perspective, and that of many of the other parents I know in this area, the issue is about two very important issues: the need to rebuild our schools, and; the lack of capital funding to do what needs to be done.

It is clear to those of us who have made the commitment to live in the new residential areas on Point Grey that the University has gone a long way toward making the rebuilding of our schools possible. We can, as always hope for more from the university, but to wait for a miracle would be to place the needs of many, many young children and families at risk of a further disruption to their education.

As adults wrangle over words and sentences in arcane planning documents our children are growing up. My own boys will not have the opportunity to attend the long sought after rebuilt school, even if it is put in place at the earliest date implied. We need the school out here and what I hear when I walk through my neighbourhood is that it’s time to start rebuilding.

Perhaps a few words about the community that makes up the student population at the two U Hill Schools would be of some interest. In terms of demographics you will already know that both schools are at the limit of their enrolment capacity. According to the BC Statistics census tract data for the UBC/UEL area there are 1545 school age children (6 to 17 years of age) living in our community. There are an additional 680 children living in this area under the age of 6. The overall population in this area has increased by nearly 40% since the 2001 census (see previous post for data). This compares with a next to nil population increase in the surrounding census tract areas (i.e. Dunbar and West Tenth areas immediately adjacent to the UEL.

It is difficult to make the decision to close any school for any reason. I would personally prefer that some other source of funding be found as opposed to the proceeds of a small school. However, if waiting for new money or new mechanisms means losing the opportunity to rebuild our schools then I do not believe that is the reasonable and prudent thing to do. We need to start Rebuilding Our Schools and we need to do it sooner rather than later.

Some have asked which school might be next? Perhaps we should ask which student must stand in line for the bus, which students must sit in a seismically unsound building, . . . Not as elegant a slogan, but more in tune with the reality of the need to rebuild our schools. Our children need a proper place to go to school and learn. On behalf of 500 hundred young people without a neighbourhood school I ask that you hold the course and start rebuilding.

Yours,

Charles Menzies
Parent of a U Hill Secondary Student.

10 thoughts on “Open Letter to Clarence Hansen, Chair VSB

  1. On 02/02/2008, Shirley Wong (trustee) wrote:
    During this period of consultation I have received many messages. Thank you for taking the time to write. All information and views expressed are being compiled along with the data stated at the public meetings held at the schools. The District Management Staff are preparing a summary of everything and it will be provided to everyone.

  2. So the issues are to ‘rebuild our schools’ and the ‘the lack of capital funding to do what needs to be done.’

    Yet in the end, your recommendation is that the VSB proceed with their proposal to close a public school (that is full), sell the land (to what will likely be a private school) so they can afford to build/renovate a school (in your neighbourhood).

    Are you seeing the inconsistencies?

    This process is forcing neighbourhoods to compete and bicker with each other. It’s bad enough when those armed with less than complete knowledge wade loudly into the debate. But when it’s reached the stage when someone who runs a website called “In Support of Public Education”, loses so much perspective in the pursuit of a much needed school in their neighbourhood that they’re prepared to advocate for the closure of a school that has flourished for 40 years and the sale of its lands rather than insist that the provincial government pay for this new school, it’s really got quite ridiculous.

    The provincial government must accept that capital spending on schools in this school district, per student, over the last 25 years must easily be lowest of any school district. It is unprecedented and short-sighted to close a school that is full and sell it to fund construction of another school. Short term the spaces at QEA will be needed for swing space during scheduled seismic upgrades and long term once enrolments start trending upwards again in eight years.

    Why are you not insisting that existing, full schools be preserved and the Provincial government be held accountable for needed capital expenditures in growing neighbourhoods?

    In Support of Public Education? Or In Support of a New School In My Neighbourhood at Any Cost?

    Gregor Young
    Parent of a current QEA student and two QEA grads

  3. I think that Mr. Menzies is being honest. He said that a school is needed. He said that he would prefer that other money be found. There are lots of children living at UBC. My children want to go to a school where they live. They have to get on the bus to go away to Queen Elizabeth for school. That is a very good school. But it would be better if they could go to school where we live.

    Melvin Chang,
    Parent

  4. In response to Gregor Young’s comments, I want to ask a similar question to those who defending QEA: are you defending it for children’s education or my children’s education at any cost?

    Most parents in U-Hill catchment I know have a mixed feeling toward the current proposal. Charles Menzies’ letter has reflected this feeling – that is while we want a neighborhood school, we have no intention to have this school or schools at the cost of inconvenience of other parents.

    However, if all possibilities and means have been exhausted for a new school at no cost, as it appears during the past years, then we go to the bottom line of fairness and efficient using of public funds.

    The thing that bothers me the most is, while QEA is a full school, the majority of the students are not living in its catchment. The school is kept full by parents who are chasing specific programs or personal preference. While they get the freedom of choice, other students are deprived from neighborhood schools.

    If special programs are so important for some parents, why don’t they send their children to private schools?

    Public education means equal access to tax money. It further means limited resources being evenly delivered to all, and special programs should only be provided after everybody gets their essential share.

    The answer to my opening question can be either way, and either is valid. However, you cannot apply one answer to a group of parents while another to other groups of parents.

    If you are defending QEA for your children, then we will have the same right for ours. Let’s have a vote from all parents that are affected!

    If you agree we are discussing the issue for the sake of whole public education, “insisting” anything based on “existing” cannot logically be a good argument. Basic right of a whole community’s children vs freedom of choice for some parents, isn’t it clear which reflects more of public education?

  5. There is a broader issue at stake, and that is whether maintaining any of the annex schools truly represents the best use of taxpayer dollars. There seems to be a misconception that UEL residents do not pay school taxes — they do, at the same mill rate as residents throughout the school district — and that the proposal to sell QEA represents a “subsidy” of UEL development. The reality is that students and taxpayers throughout the district have been subsidizing those lucky enough to attend one of the annex schools for years, and none more so than those on the Endowment Lands. Were it not for the last decade’s growth in the UEL more schools than QEA would be facing closure. Were it not for the resulting increase in school taxes, QEA would have ceased to be economically feasible years ago.

    As it currently stands, there are four schools closer to QEA than U. Hill Elementary is to the bulk of its catchment area. Concerns about transportation or inconvenience pale in comparison to those faced by UEL residents on a daily basis. Even then, there is about a one in three chance that a student in the U. Hill catchment area will be unable to attend U. Hill due to overcrowding. This does not only affect students on the Endowment Lands; it affects those at Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth as those schools are pushed towards their capacities by out-of-catchment students. To demand that we maintain a small boutique school for the benefit of fewer than 130 students at the expense of the 1500 students attending U. Hill, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth is foolish.

    I don’t see any “inconsistencies” in Mr. Menzies’ support for public education and his support for the VSB’s plan. Of course, I don’t believe that maintaining every school ever built forever is a responsible use of education dollars. Ultimately the needs of students must take precedence over everything else. Those throughout the entire Lord Byng and U. Hill families of schools, including the students currently attending QEA, are better served by the plan put forward by the VSB than by the status quo. While it is unfortunate that the Annex would be closed, it makes sense economically — and, in the long term, on the basis of quality of education — to do so.

  6. “The thing that bothers me the most is, while QEA is a full school, the majority of the students are not living in its catchment.”

    This statement is simply not true and has been discussed at the VSB meetings. The catchment for QEA is two-fold. As a dual-track school, it has a (very small) catchment for English students and a decidedly larger catchment for French Immersion students. All but two of the FI students, which comprise 2/3 of the school’s enrollment are within the FI catchment. For the two that aren’t, QEA is still the closest FI school to them geographically.

    A smaller percentage, but still a majority, of the English students are in the catchment even though it’s possible to live just two blocks from the school and not be within the catchment.

    In other words, catchment arguments are specious at best given their poor definition and haphazard application.

    Secondly, at no point has the Save QEA group expressed anything but support for the construction of a new school on campus. The only people who seem to not be pulling for both a new school on campus AND the continued operation of QEA are people on campus who are getting fearful that if QEA is saved it will be at the expense of their proposed new school. I understand that fear but it’s irrational to blame parents for wanting to save a full school that has had wait lists for years.

    The argument has to shift away from one coming at the expense of the other. The development plans at UBC have been known for at least ten years and been in progress for at least five. Why, in that time, was there no budgeting for a new school on campus by the VSB and Provincial government? Closing and selling a full school (and it will remain full given the demand for FI) to pay for another needed school is short sighted and does not solve the problem of meeting the overall needs of the UBC to Dunbar school area.

    The financial planning, or lack of, is criminally shocking.

  7. I think that it is clear that everyone starts from the premise that rebuilding schools west of Blanca is a good idea. But that’s about as far as it goes. Saying that one supports rebuilding schools but not by closing my school, in the context of the current situation, is the same as saying don’t do anything at all.

    There is no way any reasonable person could say that there isn’t a need for schooling in Vancouver west of Blanca. Many people that I know have been saying this for years. We have spoken with the VSB. We have spoken with the MLA. We have spoken with UBC Properties Trust. We have spoken with Martha Piper when she was UBC’s president. We have filmed our children’s school. We have made presentations. We have even had minor victories such as the approval in principle a couple of years ago to have an addition added to the school and, while we waited to have some bathrooms repaired.

    Why should children and families living west of Blanca in Vancouver be held ransom by the actions of Vancouver’s developer elite? A lot of the people who benefited from developing houses in the lower mainland live in the Dunbar and Southlands area of Vancouver. Their children have their needs met in private schools. Maybe we should demand that the government cut all funding to private schools -if a person wants a private option, pay for it– but keep public funds in the public system.

    The real problem is is not about closing or building schools, it’s the way our schools are funded by the provincial government. But you know, our children are only children once. And as Long as Ms Bond (Min. of Education) and Mr Campbell (Premier) keep to their program the problems that we are facing from Dunbar west will repeat themselves again and again and again.

  8. We have been reading the blogs for the last week or so. There is a lot of great dialogue and arguments for both sides. Does UBC need schools now? of course, no question. Does the sale of QE Annex solve the UBC situation? possibly in the short term. But, the real question at hand is it the correct solution or just a convenient fix? It seems a bandaid fix to a situation that must be addressed today because the situation at UBC is critical.

    This isn’t the only solution. We can’t lose sight of who is the architect of this situation, the VSB and the provincial government.

    We really don’t disagree with each other, but we need to speak as a common voice – we can be stronger together rather than have the situation pulling us apart.

    Kari & Victor
    Parents of a QEA Student

  9. It is very nice, in the abstract, to say people need to speak with the same voice.

    But is it really possible to speak with one voice? What does it mean? What is the cost of reducing everything to the lowest common denominator so that every one can speak with the same voice?

    It’s a classic dilemma. Within the current context if voice ‘a’ gets what it wants voice ‘b’ doesn’t. Voices ‘a’ and ‘b’ can both agree that some external force is to blame and that each other both deserve what they want. But, unless something changes there is no way to speak with one voice.

    We can certainly agree, as I think many of us did at the representational meeting last Thursday, that there is a real and pressing need in our school district for students living west of Blanca. We can also agree that seismic upgrades are critical and need to be dealt with. That’s the easy part. What is far harder to find common ground on is the mechanism to achieve these agreed to objectives.

    It’s what parents and community members living west of Blanca have been struggling, lobbying, arguing, praying for for going on 6 years now.

    I think it is fair to say that ideally and in the abstract every currently existing school and piece of school property should be held onto. We don’t, however, live in an ideal nor abstract world. We live in the here and now and have to make decisions under conditions not of our own choosing.

  10. When a person is bleeding to death, you have to stop the bleeding before you sit down to find out the true cause and treat it. I don’t care if the current proposal is a bandaged solution or a quick fix. As a U hill parent, I’m furious. The VSB is sitting on the problem for too long; my children don’t have another 6 years to wait for you to resolve this injustice of funding allocation. I pay my property tax and should have the right to demand decent education for my kids! While some families are enjoying the luxuries of 2 English schools and 2 FI schools in their catchment to choose from, why can’t my children guaranteed their spots in a neighborhood school?

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