Ignored during municipal election season and nearly forgotten immediately afterward, it’s hard to imagine innovation arising from the tightly regulated world of local school boards. However, for the second time in its history Cowichan School District 79 is defying its provincial government handlers by refusing to submit a budget that complies with the Liberal’s ever-deeper funding cuts.
“School districts in B.C. are the only level of government expected to simply take the money they’re allocated by the province and do the best they can,” explains SD79 chair Eden Haythornthwaite. “This was never a good idea, but it’s becoming impossible.”
In the case of school boards, rebellion is political suicide — a fact the province has made no attempt to hide. Should they stand their ground, SD 79 trustees will be fired and replaced with an appointee of the provincial government whose sole purpose will be to comply with this year’s fiscal demands.
The people in charge of SD79 are acting with the support of the electorate, placing their political careers on the line in service to the interests of their students. Ignoring the grand injustice of our underfunded education system for a moment, the question we should be asking is: ‘Why hasn’t this happened in The Capital?’
The answer comes in the form of a joint letter from four of Victoria’s School District 61 trustees — Diane McNally, Deborah Nohr, Katherine Alpha and Edith Loring-Kahunga — outlining their personal support for SD79. “This government owes public education approximately three billion dollars. Its legislation has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and it has been censured by the International Labour Organization of the United Nations.”
The letter goes on to explain that the same motion that has placed Cowichan trustees at odds with the province was voted down 5-4 at a recent SD61 meeting. A motion to simply write a letter of support failed at a subsequent meeting, with the same four votes in favour.
Politicians are not known for taking risks, particularly when those risks might force them out of the game for any length of time. With the province going out of its way to terrify school boards into compliance, it’s a disappointment but not a surprise that the majority of SD61 would rather be politely ignored than beaten into submission. M