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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“We're additionally pleased the new mandate includes specific steps to reduce the financial and emotional burdens that parents have had to take on to make up for reduced services, insufficient funding, and downloaded costs.

"Fundraising in general, and for school playgrounds in particular, has long been a significant source of stress for parents, and we hope that the amelioration of the need to continually fundraise will allow parents to invest more positive time and energy in their children's educations.”

Relationships and hope

“Relationships” and “hope” are the words I’m hearing most from key VSB partner groups.

Tim De Vivo, the business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers local 963 that represents 900 VSB employees, says a renewed relationship between government and school boards will be good for Vancouver students.

“Rob Fleming has expressed his willingness to forge that renewed relationship with all school boards and that will ultimately be good for Vancouver students,” says De Vivo.

De Vivo says he hopes that when government reviews the education funding formula, it addresses the “many deferred maintenance tasks that have been subject to unsustainable cuts for far too many years.

“Our schools are in need of funds to get this work done, to say nothing about the much-needed seismic mitigation that is required in too many Vancouver schools,” De Vivo adds.

“A new government that can address those two issues will be well on their way to show all school boards in B.C., not just Vancouver, that they are willing to work more collaboratively with them. I'm confident they'll make a good faith effort."

The wishlist

McKnight, who speaks for VSB elementary teachers and adult educators, says the VSB needs to start looking at ways to attract and retain teachers, and that it may lose those who’ve been commuting from outside the city but are now able to get jobs closer to home.

Vancouver’s notoriously high housing costs might also be a problem if districts have to compete for teachers. She says last year saw many schools unable to get substitute teachers in to cover absences, which meant resource teachers and other staff got pulled away from their duties to cover classes.

It’s important the new government fully fund the restored (by the Supreme Court of Canada) teachers’ contract language and McKnight is concerned there is still a lack of clarity about whether there is enough funding and assurance that all VSB classes will be in compliance.

She says it’s critical funding is provided to support implementation of the new curriculum and other initiatives such as coding instruction. “There’s a lot of hope there. Education funding was such a big part of the new government’s platform.”

McKnight also hopes that relationships between teachers and management will improve once an elected board is in place. She questions Fleming’s plan to keep the appointed trustee — Dianne Turner — in place once the new board is elected.

“We don’t see a need to see Turner stay on more than a day or two for transition,” says McKnight. “We’re concerned about the VSB budget being used to pay for her to stay on and we don’t see that as necessary to ensuring the success of the new board.”

In the longer term, Shipley also hopes government reconsiders how much public funding is allocated to private schools and says the portion of the provincial education budget that goes to private schools has increased significantly.

“We’re really hoping the new government can hold it together as a model of how we can do partisan politics differently,” adds Shipley.

CUPE 15’s Williams says his long-term hopes for the new government are that they fully fund all increases that result from the next round of bargaining with support staff unions and school boards and that government review Aboriginal education and include the teaching and learning of Indigenous languages in the curriculum.

He’s pleased with the new government’s recent decision to restore funding for adult education courses that was cut by the B.C. Liberals in late 2014. “Adult education courses are essential for many young adults to take the steps they need to create better futures for themselves. Those costs need to be fully covered by government,” says Williams.

On his wish list, Williams would like to see an education assistant in every classroom and day-time custodians in all B.C. public schools.

Here’s hoping for better days ahead for Vancouver schools and students and a great 2017/18 school year.

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