DPAC Chair perspective
The recent firing of the Vancouver School Board (VSB) by Education Minister Mike Bernier, on the excuse that they had not passed the budget by the deadline, rings hollow after the board announced their commitment to pass the budget in a meeting scheduled for that purpose. It appears to be a political move by the government to save face by firing the board before that planned meeting.
This is the perspective of Morgane Oger, Chair of the Vancouver DPAC.
“Minister Bernier doesn’t look very good firing the Board for not passing the budget when they announced they would pass the budget,” Oger said. “We saw hints that the ministry was about to make a move. There was a press release put out by the NPA that provided political cover the day before the minister did this. You’ll notice the accusations in the release are vague and don’t say who was being bullied,” adding that the allegations were being echoed by those people who are quite sympathetic to the Ministry of Education.
Oger and her colleagues in the DPAC are very active with the trustees, the administration and the staff of the Vancouver School District, and have a close-up perspective on relations around the organization, particularly with those who are on sick leave.
“I’ve been in meetings with them at least twice a week and I’ve had individual one-on-one closed door meetings where frank conversations could be had,” said Oger. “None of the senior staff ever complained about what the October 17th NPA release alleged:”
We (the NPA School Trustees) have found the delaying tactics of other trustees, and the public criticism of the work of senior staff, very difficult to watch. It has made our Board meetings and planning sessions an intolerable, toxic place to be.
“It’s actually quite the opposite. Staff have told me the relationship between the chair of the board, and the Vision board trustees, as well as some of the NPA Trustees was actually very good. You could see the relationships in the committees and it was quite collegial, except for one or two NPA Trustees who I believe were hostile or downright aggressive towards staff. I don’t know who the complaint was against, but as the Chair of DPAC, I had deep reservations about the credibility of what I saw as a ‘house of cards’ that was built up by the Minister of Education. As some one who is familiar with the way politics works, it appeared to me that the Ministry of Education was trying to create a case for getting rid of a very serious thorn in the Minister’s side and making it look like it’s the Board’s fault.”
Oger said that before the action taken by the Minister, five Board members (a majority) had stated they would support the budget.
“They’d spoken in favour of it,” she said. “It was impossible that the Board would change its mind because they had published their intentions widely. I had had conversations with several board members of several party affiliations telling me that it was expected to pass. Further, we knew it was going to pass because the requirements had changed. The board originally refused the budget over the demand that schools would be closed in order to save money. When the requirement to close those schools was removed, there was no longer a reason to reject the budget, as the trustees had already implemented the rest of it.”
“Remember that parents in Vancouver unanimously petitioned the Board of Trustees to not pass that budget in June,” Oger stated, “and the board answered the call of parents who said that the cuts were too deep. Remember, the board was split four-four (Vision Vancouver and NPA) plus one Green Party trustee who is fiscally conservative. The Green Party trustee held the deciding vote and she answered the call of parents by voting in support of the Vision Trustees. The point of this is there is no toxic environment. Two of the parties were in agreement and one of those was fiscally conservative. A majority on the board thought that the cuts were simply too harsh and not socially sustainable in Vancouver, and that they damaged vulnerable children in removing important teaching in schools.”
“The English language learners support was drastically cut,” said Oger, “reading comprehension support for early readers and culturally vulnerable students was drastically cut and support staff for ethnic groups was drastically cut. What I found to be horrific, was that the groups had to compete with each other by advocating for our special interests. I am also the Chair of the Trans Alliance Society, which everyone knew, but in order to speak on behalf of that organization, I asked another member of represent DPAC while I stepped out of my role with DPAC to lobby the school board. Ultimately I was successful in that they reversed the decision to cut the LGBT advocate. But at the time I lobbied the Board, I knew that if I were successful, the needs of another vulnerable community in Vancouver would not be met. We were reduced to a sort of Hunger Games scenario where competing desperate interests trying to help vulnerable children were being forced to fight against each other. That was disgusting.”
Oger described the situation as “a byzantine approach where the Ministry of Education is silencing opposition in the province by killing it.”
“Immediately after firing the board the Minister reversed all of the positions which were what the board was fighting against and trying to convince him to reverse,” she stated. “ He claimed that there was never a requirement to close schools. He reversed his position on the 95% enrolment requirement, he’s reversing his position on the need for seismic upgrades, he claims that seismic upgrades are going to go forward when it was his ministry that blocked seismic upgrades for years. This is appalling. What the parents see in all of this is cynical election posturing before an up-coming election with the children being used as pawns.”
For the time being, Oger agrees that the vulnerable schools in Vancouver will not be closed for now.
“But I think it’s important to be realistic,” Oger says, “The schools will not be closed if the BC Liberals lose office. If the BC Liberals stay in office I am certain they will close the schools the day after the election, or they will start the process the day after the election. It’s inconceivable that this is not the plan. All they are doing is delaying the closing of the schools to buy time to get past the election.”
Minister Mike Bernier’s position on the firing has been widely reported, however the Asian Journal is seeking his comment on the views of Morgane Oger, and will report further when they are available.
Morgane Oger is currently seeking the NDP nomination to run in Vancouver False Creek in the next provincial election.