Education Week Opens with the Investigation of School Board Business

Welcome back to school and to Eduction week (see proclamation here). As school doors open we learn that the Liberal government’s plan for school boards to become venture capitalists has run into some difficulties in New Westminster.

Vancouver Sun education reporter, Ms. Janet Steffenhagen, reveals that: Education Minister Shirley Bond has ordered a review of a business company operated by the New Westminster school board after some parents complained that the company has devoured almost $1 million that could have been spent on schools and students.>(Vancovuer Sun online source; Download file.

Vancovuer parent Dawn Steele comments that this is exactly the sort of problems that parents have been worried about since the current government enacted legislation to permit venture capitalist activies by school boards.

These are EXACTLY the concerns we raised when Vancouver announced its plans to do the EXACT same thing. Thankfully, the former school board scuttled the whole thing very quickly, but we can be sure that these suggestions will rise again, and they raise enormous issues:

  • As this story points out, the School Act provides no clear regulatory structure to ensure accountability.
  • Incompetent/untrustworthy Boards hide their activities and their mistakes behind a veil of secrecy, pleading the need for corporate privac.y
  • Most such activities seem to be directed at overseas ventures — where risk is most extreme, which only demonstrates the naivete and gross inexperience of our “entrepreneurial” trustees.
  • Entrepreneurship is by its very definition high risk — the stats show that most ventures fail, even when you’re launching something far more mundane on your own home turf.
  • Such ventures bleed badly-needed funds away from schools for start-up capital and they bleed our schools even more when they fail.

The moment we accept this idea of depending on entrepreneurial activities to finance education, we are choosing to stake our children’s future on a gamble. Districts that strike it rich can educate kids well, while those that fail will deprive thousands of children of quality education, through no fault of their own. Where is the level playing field?

Parents, PACs and other education partners who care about our children and the principles that underlie our public education system must say NO to entrepreneurial financing of public education in the strongest possible terms. Let our politicians finance their own salaries and pension schemes from offshore China ventures instead if they feel the need for adventure.News articles related to this issue
Businesses run by B.C. school boards lose money

Parents question company

Where are the answers?

Questions are justified

Accountability is necessary

SOS Talk: An email list for Public Education Advocates

SOS-talk is an active email list dedicated to the support of public education. Many of its original members where active in the 2002 SOS Vancouver parents’ campaigg in defense of public education. At that time the provincial government introduced a series of legislative changes to education which including a manadated teachers contract an dincreased to the Medical Services plan, but they didn’t provide the funds to pay for it. In Vancouver alone the school board budget cut was 25 million dollars.

Vancouver SOS Principles

    * Public education is the right of every child and a cornerstone of a democratic society.
    * A high-quality public education system is an investment in the social and economic future of our society.
    * Government is responsible for providing adequate and equitable public school funding, recognizing the iffering needs and circumstances of children in all parts of society.
    * All partners in the public education system—parents, teachers, administrators, support workers, trustees, provincial government members and local communities—have a responsibility to work cooperatively in the interests of all children.

If you agree with these principals and wish to join sos-talk send an email message to in which you identify yourself, state your level of invovlement with education, and any other details you feel relevant. Membership is reviewed but the discussion is open and unmoderated.Quote from the 2002 SOS letter writing campaign

We are a diverse group of PAC reps and parents trying to reach other PACs in BC, inviting you to join us in a massive, province-wide letter-writing campaign against proposed education cuts.

Our campaign began when Vancouver parents and PAC chairs came together to form an ad hoc, non-partisan parent group called S.O.S. (Save our Schools) – see attached Information Sheet. As parents we decided that instead of fighting each other for shares of an inadequate budget, we would stand up together and ask the provincial government to live up to its promises. We are currently collecting thousands of letters in Vancouver and starting to work with PACs and DPACs in other districts across BC to ensure adequate provincial funding for a quality public education system.

It is urgent that all PACs and parents who share our concerns act now because school districts must submit their budgets by late April. By collecting enough letters, we hope to convince school trustees and the provincial government to re-consider decisions that will hurt all our students.

The crux of our campaign is to ask the provincial government to fulfill its promises to make education a top priority and to protect education funding. Specifically, we ask that they fund the increased costs that were legislated, but passed on to school districts. We also ask the government to restore the funding that many districts lost due to their new funding formula, as this will force many districts to cut services or even close schools.

Additional background and resources related to the emergence of the SOS campaing can be found on the BC Parents for Public Education page and on the BC Society for Public Education page.

Students Against BC Graduation Portfolio

To: To the BC Ministry of Education

Every student in BC has heard of the new graduation program introduced by the BC provincial government for students graduating in 2007 or later. Within the new graduation program is the graduation portfolio, officially defined as “a collection of carefully selected items that reflect on one’s experience both in and out of school”.

One of these items is forcing students to take Socials 11, despite the fact that some students are in special programs which simply can not fit the extra course in their schedule. Students are then required to take the courses online or during summer school.

The graduation portfolio might fit its definition if anybody knew exactly what is going on. The administration and teachers are not even finished planning the methods of evaluation and presenting the portfolio. Often, students have tried to ask their teachers for help, only to receive an “I’m not sure” for an answer. Is it fair that some teachers themselves don’t understand the portfolio clearly?

Make a difference and sign the petition below. After we have obtained 1000 (or more) signatures, we will present this petition to the BC Minister of Education Shirley Bond.


Sign the petition here.New grad rules stump students: Some requirements conflict with course work

Elaine O’Connor, The Province
Published: Friday, January 27, 2006
More than 7,000 B.C. students are protesting new provincial requirements for graduation — which they say conflict with existing programs and are confusing.

Vancouver Grade 10 student Phoebe Yu began an online petition two weeks ago that thousands of students from Dawson Creek to Delta have signed.

Their main concerns are portfolio requirements that they say are poorly defined and, in some cases, conflict with their specialized programs.

“We must take Socials 11 in summer school or online during our Grade 11 or 12 year, [because] the course conflicts with the [international baccalaureate] syllabus,” says Yu, a pre-IB student at Sir Winston Churchill.

“IB itself is already a very challenging program. We really don’t need another course on top of everything.

“Even our teachers encouraged us to write to [Minister of Education] Shirley Bond about the conflict,” Yu says.

IB students already complete a similar Creativity, Action, Service program and should be exempt from the portfolio, she says.

The Ministry of Education introduced the B.C. Graduation Program for students starting Grade 10 in 2004. It requires students to complete five provincial exams, to complete 80 credits in specific courses and to complete a three-year, four-credit self-directed graduation portfolio to display skills beyond the curriculum in the areas of computers, career planning, physical activity and volunteering.

Yu plans to send the petition ( petition.html) to Bond.

Ministry spokeswoman Corinna Filion admits that there have been some conflicts with the IB program.

The International Baccalaureate Organization branch in B.C. has contacted the ministry with concerns.

A review is under way and if changes are needed, they will be implemented in the 2006/07 school year, Filion says.
© The Vancouver Province 2006

VSB adds 66 new French Immersion Spaces: Anticapted waiting list to drop from 250 to 184

VANCOUVER/CKNW(980) – The Vancouver School Board has approved the recommendations of a task force, on how to deal with increasing demand for french immersion. The board has voted unanimously on the interim recommendations. The lottery system approved for the next school year means it’s ‘the luck of the draw’ for parents trying to get their kids into french immersion. Board Chair Ken Denike admits it’s not the best method of determining who get in [That is an understatement, ed]. “We need to discuss the whole matter of whether french is an entitlement or as a choice, as it’s currently being practiced. and that’s to be done, it comes to the next committee meeting with a terms of reference.”

There are 66 new early french immersion spots in kindergarten, and an extra 30 spots for grade 6 students.

Yes indeed – new spaces. When the waiting list from last year was 250 a mere 66 is, in my opinion, insignificant. When one takes into account more than a third of those spaces were already in the system -that is they were temporary approvals for the last several years at Trafalgar and Tennyson Elementary Schools– that have now been fixed in place with continuing support, it means that we have added next to nothing for French Immersion. I say this from my perspective as one of the two parent reps who sat on the taskforce that VSB set in place last March that made these recommendations. The taskforce spent many hours attempting to identify spaces and initially seemed to find about 121 – enough to accommodate half of last year’s waiting list. Bye the time January 2006 rolled around we were down to the 66 spaces for early French immersion that have now been established.

If we are going to be able to respond effectively to the growing need for French language instruction in our schools than there will need, I believe, to be an attitude change amongst the administrators and other players. French Immersion is not an elitist program, it’s not a haven for reactionary white middle class professionals. French Immersion is more and more the option preferred by many people in the system who are interested in having their children able to meet the realities of our global society that is a world in which speaking more than one language is a norm ( Dr. Diane Dagenais of SFU has done research on this subject that is very informative).

For background and addition information see the following links:

French Immersion Taskforce report to School Board

Vancouver School Board info related to new French Immersion spaces

In early Novemeber it looked like we would have 121 spaces. What happened? Read the article in the Vancovuer Courier about the 121 spaces.

Canadian Parents for French: VSB taskforce archives

See also info on Quilchena Parent Advisory Council webpage.

Judge slams activist Courtenay mom over e-mails

Teachers, others attacked in Internet campaign, awarded $700,000 in damages

Jeff Rud, Times Colonist
Published: Friday, January 13, 2006

A Courtenay woman whose campaign of highly critical e-mails and Internet postings defamed nine teachers, a former school trustee and a parent, has been ordered by the B.C. Supreme Court to pay nearly $700,000 in damages.

Madame Justice Jacqueline Dorgan ordered Sue Halstead to pay 11 plaintiffs a total of $676,000 after Halstead published defamatory statements “in the context of a prolonged and sustained campaign of character assassination against each of the plaintiffs.”

See original web posting of this story.

See also, B.C. court awards thousands to defamed teachers.

BCTF School Alert on this subject

Daphne Bramham’s column on the subject in today’s vancovuer Sun

Article from The ProvinceThe judge acknowledged that it will be difficult to collect the damages, given Halstead’s financial circumstances, but also ordered her to stop publishing comments about the plaintiffs on the Internet or any other medium.

“Her conduct was clearly motivated by malice and was oppressive. Ms. Halstead’s shockingly vicious attack upon, and her manifestly fictitious account of, each of the plaintiffs’ character and conduct is deserving of rebuke …,” Dorgan wrote in her reasons for judgment.

Halstead, a mother whose five children attended public school in the Comox Valley, has a long history as a volunteer activist with a focus on education and prevention of bullying. But the judge ruled that she defamed these educators by sending out mass e-mails and postings in chatrooms in which she “regularly made allegations of teachers’ misconduct and allegations that the school board mishandled or covered up the behaviours she referred to.”

Halstead also created a website in 2003 that included a page entitled “B.C.’s Least Wanted” which the judgment described as a “rogue’s gallery.” It included a display of names and photographs of people whom Halstead contended had “engaged in wrongful conduct within the education system.”

The “Least Wanted” page was divided into sections, including those who had been disciplined by the B.C. College of Teachers; “Educators in Court,” which included names and photos of teachers involved in litigation; “Bully Educators,” whom Halstead alleged to have committed “acts deserving of rebuke, or deserving of the description ‘bully;'” and “School Board Bullies,” a number of boards alleged to have used bullying tactics against parents and students.

In cases where photos of teachers were not posted, cartoons of an apple with a worm in it were displayed in their place.

Edmund Newman, a teacher at Cumberland Junior Secondary, was awarded the greatest individual damages, getting $150,000. Other individual awards ranged from $1,000 to $125,000 and the judge also ordered $50,000 in punitive damages to be split among the plaintiffs, nine of whom live on Vancouver Island and two in Prince George.

Halstead released a brief statement by e-mail Thursday in response to the judgment.

“The judge has ordered me not to discuss these issues and I can’t or I would be in contempt of court,” she wrote. “I took these [defamatory] statements off the website in November 2003 when the union demanded that I do so. That is over two years ago. I have no intention of ever publishing them again.”

A Mad Way to Spend Money

Vancouver Sun, Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Catherine Evans, Chair, BC Society for Public Education

“March Madness” struck early this year in every public school and school district in the province. All are scrambling to spend $56 million before the province closes its books on March 31. This money, clawed back in November as savings from the teachers’ job action, was quietly made available a week before classes ended in December on condition that spending plans be submitted by January 10 and the money actually spent by March 31.

Even in an age of instant communication, it takes time to sort out this kind of announcement. For schools – on holidays for half the time available – there were really only four days in January to draw up plans and get them to the districts. Parent participation within this timeframe – a supposed requirement of the government’s action – was next to impossible.

In Victoria, this kind of frenzied behavior is usually confined to late in the fiscal year when ministries know whether or not they have leftover funds. It’s the crazy way government budgets work – hence “March Madness.”

The Ministry of Education already knows it has extra cash – lots of it – courtesy of the salaries that teachers and others gave up to make a point. Unfortunately many the items schools most urgently need cannot be paid for with this money. The one-time nature of the money coupled with the short timeframe means that it cannot be used for seismic upgrades, new playgrounds, or salaries for any of the people that are in short supply, e.g., teacher-librarians, special education assistants, and playground supervisors.

So how will the money be used? The intent is that most of it will go to textbooks, learning materials, computers and library books. These are very necessary and very expensive. In fact, pent-up demand from more than 12 years of budget constraint could easily absorb many more millions in spending.

But is throwing one-time, short-term money at schools really a good way to run a healthy school system? Most would say, and I would be forced to agree, that having this money is better than not having it. But are they also saying that schools only get money to buy books when there is unexpected cash available? What happened to long-term, stable funding that allows schools to purchase new textbooks and other resources in an orderly and predictable manner? Teachers should not have to strike in order for students to have books. Our students deserve better.

BC Society for Public Education

Teachers’ Strike ‘Savings’ Distributed

From the Globe and Mail.

VANCOUVER — B.C. public schools and school districts combined will get $100 a student as part of the province’s distribution of the $126 million it saved during the teachers’ illegal (sic) strike in October.Of that money, Education Minister Shirley Bond said yesterday, $56 million will go to schools and school districts, with a one-time funding of $50 a student going to each.

The province will also give 34 of its 93 school districts $2-million to make up for lost school days with extra instructional time. The 34 districts had earlier asked for additional money to fund instruction during evenings, on Saturdays and on other days when school is not normally in session to make up for lessons lost during the strike.

The balance of the money saved will be dispersed, with $20-million going toward reducing class sizes, $40-million to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s long-term disability trust, and the remaining $8-million to fund programs such as the rural-schools strategy and the healthy-schools program.

The funding from the province means an additional $13,000 for Central Coast School District 49, one of the smallest in the province.

Superintendent Jerry Smit said the money will likely go toward augmenting existing resources.

“It isn’t a lot of money for our district, but any money helps,” Mr. Smit said yesterday. “The ministry has financed this small district relatively well despite our declining enrolment.”

The school district’s budget is $5.2-million and it’s responsible for just under 400 pupils in five schools, with three in the Bella Coola Valley and two on the more remote outer coast.

The first priority for districts in spending their $50 a student is textbooks and learning resources, while schools can decide their priorities for the $50 a head through consultation with staff, parents and school planning councils.

The strike cost students nine classroom days when the province’s 38,000 teachers walked out after the province imposed another two- year wage freeze.

The B.C. Supreme Court had ruled the strike illegal and fined the union $500,000 for ignoring a labour relations board ruling and court order telling them to return to the classrooms. Teachers eventually voted in favour of returning after mediator Vince Ready stepped in.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jinny Sims said the province should have given more money to schools. But she is pleased to see direct spending go to the districts and schools.

Schools and districts must submit their plans on how they’ll spend the money by Jan. 10, 2006.