There's hope in the air as kids head back to Vancouver public schools

But the school year may be in for a bumpy start.

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Williams is also concerned about instability at the VSB and says that since the elected board was fired it has been “topsy turvy” and that his relationship with senior managers deteriorated after VSB unions issued a statement in March rejecting a controversial report that alleged bullying by former elected trustees. The unions’ joint statement called the allegations in the report “unfair, unsubstantiated and appearing to be politically motivated” and said they supported the trustees asking hard questions.

Williams says after they released the statement, senior managers stopped speaking to union representatives and began to “ignore us when we passed them in the hallways.” He said he took his concerns about this to the appointed trustee in an attempt to rebuild fractured relationships between CUPE 15 and VSB senior management.

During my eight years as a VSB trustee — and six of those as board chair — I got used to lots of frantic and frustrated calls and messages from parents in September when they discovered their kids still didn’t have a filled time table as the end of September approached, or in some cases, were still waiting to be assigned a school.

Elementary school was a challenge too. If more kids showed up than expected, or a bunch that were expected didn’t come back, classes that had been carefully organized and with teachers assigned could have to be reorganized after a couple of weeks of school. That could mean little Johnny didn’t get his favourite teacher after all and wouldn’t be with his best friend. Or Emma would go from a grade four class to a grade three and four split class. Cue the frantic phone calls to trustees.

This would usually — but not always — all get settled down by the end of September but this year could be a lot tougher with so many new teachers still to be hired. Stay tuned and take deep breaths.

Long-term gain?

Shipley says she’s looking forward to collaborative relationships with the new government when it comes to reviewing areas like funding and curriculum design, versus what previously tended to be oppositional ones with the Clark government.

“We hope to see the new government provide funding that fully covers the cost of restoring contract language.”

She also hopes the new government will review graduation requirements that were reduced by the previous government, to ensure students don’t miss out on elective courses.

On the political front, Shipley says VSTA is pleased Fleming decided there will be an October 14 by-election to elect a new a new VSB. Former Education Minister Mike Bernier fired the elected board last October for refusing to pass a budget that included extensive cuts to staffing and programs. Since then the district has been governed by a single, appointed trustee.

“Public education should be governed with oversight that reflects public values,” says Shipley.

But she doesn’t know how Fleming made his decision — announced earlier this month — to keep the B.C. Liberals’ appointed trustee on even after a new board is elected. “We weren’t consulted and we believe that if the government wants to keep the appointed trustee on, the Ministry of Education should pay for the costs. We want to see VSB funds spent on direct service to students, as much as possible,”

Parent groups finally get a meeting with the education minister

Another key stakeholder group’s representatives are reporting the new government, and notably the new education minister, are off to a positive start.

The Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) Vice President, Shaun Kalley, says they’ve already met with Fleming, “signaling a welcome change in the relationship between parents and the government.  We hope to build on that new beginning by continuing to bring issues affecting Vancouver parents forward.” Kalley says the parent groups made several efforts to meet with Bernier when he was minister, without success.

Kalley told me by email that parents are pleased the new B.C. government “is taking positive action to restore public education in B.C. by promising stable and sustainable funding and by looking for ways to accelerate the seismic upgrade process. 

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