Board of Education Trustee Interferes in Parent Organization

Oct. 15, 2007 UPDATE: Trustee offers belated apology to District Parents citing ‘misunderstanding’ and feeling unsure of her welcome at DPAC meetings as her excuse for using the public platform of a board of education meeting to interfere in the internal processes of Vancouver’s District Parents’ Advisory Council and then to call her liaison school principles to lobby them on DPAC’s internal processes. But, she’s sorry that anyone felt ambushed by her surprise question and that anyone took offense at her intervention into the internal processes of a parent organization.

As recorded in the official reports going to the Board of Education meeting October 15:

District Parent Advisory Council – Bylaw Change

Trustee Gibson referred to the Notice of Motion regarding the bylaw changes dealing with at-large (rather than area) election of District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) executive members. Trustee Gibson expressed her concern commenting that on the surface this change is more than a bylaw change and a broader discussion is needed. After a brief discussion, L. Anderson, Associate Superintendent, Continuing and International Education, agreed to meet with DPAC and members of District Management and trustees to further discuss the issue.

Such meddling in the democratic affairs of a Board of Education partner organization is a sad reflection on the majority trustee. Such interference would not be tolerated by other partner groups -such interference should not be tolerated by parents. It is only appropriate that the trustee apologize publicly for her actions. One wold hope that the Board of Education will also issue a formal statement making clear that it has no intention of interfering in the democratic processes of any of its partner organizations.

Involved PAC Parent Suports DPAC ByLaw Proposal

Patti Bacchus, a parent actively involved in her children’s school PACs and as a volunteer on district level committees has this to say about Vancouver District Parents’ Advisory Council’s proposed bylaw change:

I will be recommending both the PACs I belong to to vote in favour of the at-large system for DPAC as I agree that we need to fill the vacant executive positions. While in theory it would of course be preferable to have full geographic representation (and I’m not at all convinced the three relatively arbitrary areas we have give us any guarantee of wide representation as things stand), in practice we need to do what we can to fill spots with people who are interested in serving. Perhaps by doing that we can expand the DPAC presence into areas of the city that may not be as connected as they could be as there would be more people to do that outreach.

The workload of the volunteers who sit on the executive is already very heavy and I fear that may be having the unintended consequence of dissuading others to get involved. I really appreciate the time and commitment our small executive has put into representing the parent voice in the district.

On the other issue of whether it is appropriate for trustees to be meddling in the affairs of the parent group, particularly trustees who are not current parents (PAC members), I am disappointed that Trustee Gibson is, according to what I’m reading on the listserve at least, opting to put considerable effort into this issue which I believe is outside her jurisdiction. As for the board chair’s comment [Oct. 10, 2007 Committee III meeting] about funding DPAC, [and thus being able to decide on DPAC’s organization] this is equivalent to the education minister telling BCCPAC how to run its affairs as the MoE funds it. I would hope that these elected officials, who have had just this weekend received what the Vancouver Sun calls “a stinging indictment” in a paper by former West Van Superintendent Doug Player and former BCTF president Kit Kreiger, would be focused on leading our school district out of the alarming direction it’s be heading under their watch, instead of fussing over how the parent group organizes its representation.

The Sun piece reports “Doug Player and Kit Krieger — both retired — have come together to produce a stinging indictment of the B.C. education system, saying its leaders are afraid to lead, millions of dollars are wasted every year on administration and the Liberal accountability agenda is killing innovation…and they decided to speak out — largely, they say, because education leaders such as superintendents, trustees and principals aren’t doing so for fear of retaliation by government.

“B.C.’s education system is under assault, not by critics but by silence — silence from the very people who should advocate for the best for our children,” Player and Krieger say in a paper submitted to The Vancouver Sun.

“Perhaps superintendents and principals fear that the minister might reconsider a soon-expected decision to remove a pay freeze on their salaries. Perhaps trustees fear retaliation, dismissal or further amalgamation by a ministry that seems to think that schools thrive on turmoil rather than stability and sound policies.”

A stinging indictment indeed. Clearly Gibson and her colleagues have their work cut out for them. Perhaps they should leave it to PACs to decide how they want to be represented. and get on with their jobs, and stop leaving it to groups like DPAC , SOS, FSSS and other parent groups to do all the work of stand up for our students and a quality public education system that meets the needs of every learner.

Vancouver DPAC Expands Democratic Function

Vancouver’s District Parents’ Advisory Council is expanding the democratic function of the council. Over the past several years the council has had a difficult time finding active parent volunteers to fill all 12 spaces on the council. The problem seems to be that despite active Parent Advisory Councils in most Vancouver schools, there is not a corresponding interest in participating at the District level. As a parent who has been involved at the District level for several years I can completely understand the sense of futility that can sometimes emerge.

[Read proposed bylaw change here.]

The district committees and structures are time intensive and extremely bureaucratic in nature. Whereas at the local school I have always felt a sense of connection to the process, at the district level there are often major barriers placed -often unintentional – in front of parental involvement. Nonetheless, parent volunteers are asked to sit on committees that often meet several times a month, last from a two to five hours at a time, and very often occur over the diner hour or other times that make if difficult to be a caring parent and an effective volunteer.

Then there is the feeling that one gets that unless a parent agrees with management or trustees they are not ‘on board,’ or that they have ‘an agenda.’ Despite the ideology of debate and discussion the reality of it is that the politicians and the professionals in charge want parents to side with them as though we don’t have a thought in of our own; unless we come up with the same opinion that they do. Then we are presented as being brilliant, caring parents.

Despite all of that there are still many parents who step up and offer their time, energy, and good work. In addition to the six parents currently on the District Parents Advisory Council executive there are another dozen or so volunteering as parent reps on special advisory committees from modern languages, first nations, race relations, special education, gifted education, educational facilities review steering committee, and many more.

As a parent volunteer each of us on the DPAC participates in one of the five standing committees of the board where it is our obligation and responsibility to try and effectively represent the voices of as many parents as possible. As parents we come from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds. We are working people living in all areas of this city. We are parents of children with special education needs. We are parents or ‘normal’ children. We are parents who have made a commitment to participate in the democratic processes of our children’s education. We hope that the changes we are proposing for electing representative to the DPAC executive will add more people, more diversity, more perspectives to our council and, ultimately that this will make our capacity to represent parents at the Board of Education even stronger and more durable than it already is.