This post covers an email exchange between me, private citizen and parent, and Patti Bacchus of the VSB and Mike Bernier, Minister of Education (BC)
To: Patti Bacchus
Honourable Mike Bernier
Minister of Education
From: Robert Ford
Re: Addition of new classroom to Henry Hudson Elementary in Vancouver
Date: December 7, 2015
I am writing as an individual parent even though my background with the PAC (past chair and current co-treasurer) has given me visibility to the issues at hand.
At the last PAC meeting, parents were informed that a new classroom was going to be added to help with the influx of English track kindergarten students. In the previous year this was threatened, but not acted upon. During the process last year, our PAC had good visibility (much appreciated) to the options of where to put the classroom. The obvious choice is the conversion of the staff room/lounge to a classroom since that particular space used to be a classroom. However this leaves the question of where to put a teacher’s lounge.
I can’t help but get the feeling that we’re trying to put the 13th egg into the egg carton.
Part of the problem is that the aging facility has limitations as follows.
1. The bathrooms are Satanic. Honestly, Beelzebub himself would hold it and find another location to go. I am aware that the PAC has asked for inspections and complained over the years to be told that the loos are adequate given the age of the building. I find this hard to imagine. I think, were the VSB head office to be moved to this school, the first order of business would be to upgrade the bathrooms. It is (at best) a double standard to have facilities for children substantially less amenable that one’s own. On a health issue, the taps don’t get up to heat quickly. Children don’t have that kind of patience. The taps are only warm when there’s been previous recent use.
2. There is no where in the school for rainy day play. The gym can’t hold everyone. The art room, the computer room and spare space in the basement have been converted to classrooms.
3. The field is a mess. This is an old issue and parents have been told there’s no money to fix it.
To speed things along, I’ll intercept the usual responses. From the VSB and the Ministry, it’s time for an unusual response.
Usual response #1 (VSB): We are the victims of chronic government under funding. We have $100 million in deferred maintenance.
Why this doesn’t help: Assuming this is true (I’m not sure how MSP rate increases don’t come with offsetting money when the teachers’ contract is negotiated by the province.) it still doesn’t help. It’s not as if this answer lets me go home and not worry about the quality of my son’s education at Hudson.
Usual response #2 (VSB): A lot of other schools have the same problems.
Why this doesn’t help: I have sufficient work cut out for me looking after my own two kids. I’m going to assume that parents at other schools will be bugging you appropriately. In addition, my comparisons are limited to nearby schools. Lord Tennyson is better off than us. They still have an activity room and somehow have portables. It’s not fair.
Usual response #3 (Ministry of Education): The provincial government is spending more than it ever has on Education. The VSB has declining enrollment in the system and needs to manage that.
Why this doesn’t help: If there were declining enrollment where my son was going to school, I wouldn’t be writing this letter. If you are spending more on Education, why the heck are the bathrooms so dire?
It’s now your turn. If you want parents to help fundraise for a plumber and fixtures, let me know. We already buy technology, supplies and playground equipment. It would be refreshing to know that we’re fundraising to literally save our kids’ asses.
Response received from Patti the next day.
Hi Robert – Good to hear from you. It was interesting to read this on a day that I have been out touring Vancouver schools.
We’ve come a long way from our old convos re the potential closure of Hudson to how to add more classroom space. It’s a good example of our shifting populations and the need for the VSB to have flexibility to respond to these changes.
I share your concerns re the sad state of the washrooms. When my kids were in primary school at Queen Mary, I sent a photo of their washrooms to the Premier to show how awful they were. Well they’re finally being addressed as part of the seismic upgrade and my kids are now 20 and 21. In my case, persistence paid off but it took a an absurdly long time and years of work to get there.
Maintenance funding continues to be a huge problem for the VSB. The current Annual Facilities funding is approximately one sixth of what the industry (according to the Building Owners and Manager Assn) recommends for buildings of the ages and sizes we have. This year an additional routine maintenance fund was announced by the MoE and the VSB applied for $5 million in much-needed funding. We didn’t receive any.
We have been advocated for several years for an increase in facility maintenance funding and were successful at getting unanimous support for a from the BC School Trustees Association on a motion we took forward on the matter. Unfortunately, rates of not increased at all since before I was elected for the first time, while costs have increased significantly and deferred maintenance accumulates.
The MoE also doesn’t allocate funding for indoor play space – it is even more challenging in newer schools. Many of the older schools have basement or other space than is used on rainy days. Newer schools generally don’t.
And if it is any comfort (and I don’t expect it to be and nor should it be) – there is not any hot water in the restrooms at the VSB head office – it’s ice cold.
A couple of years ago a parent making a plea at a budget hearing became frustrated and told the trustees to use our “magic wands” to save programs and avoid further cuts. I can’t tell you how much I’d like one of those. In the mean time, we’re stuck with a budget we must balance and almost the lowest per-student funding in the country.
There are several Vancouver parents who are doing some impressive advocacy work. I encourage you to send them photos of the Hudson washrooms and anything else you thing all levels of government should see. Their site is fixbced.tumblr.com. In all my years as a parent and/or trustee, what I’ve seen work is persistent and collective advocacy.
I wish I had that wand and could give you a better response. As you know I started out as a parent advocate trying to support the work of the school board of the day through advocacy. We’ve had a lot of successes, not the least of which was convincing government to agree to seismic upgrades after our FSSS campaign from 2002-2005. It was hard work but by bringing a wide range of folks together to make a strong case, we got the commitment, although it is taking much longer to see it fulfilled than we’d ever imagined.
My school tours today showed me there is a lot of work still to be done. Kids deserve better than what they’re getting and I will continue to advocate and do whatever else I can do to make sure they get it.
Thanks again for your continued advocacy.