Educate thyself

An open letter to Education Minister Peter Fassbender from an SD 85 counsellor.

Dear editor,

An open letter to Education Minister Peter Fassbender:

Mr. Fassbender,

I am an elementary school counsellor; I service eight elementary schools and more than 700 students in my school district — a district with a high percentage (25-30 per cent) of at-risk students (in May, my caseload included 64 individual students, three classes, and seven groups; the average caseload of a full time counsellor is 25-35 clients). I have been teaching, and now counselling, in B.C. public schools since 1989.

I am writing to tell you that I am grieved and disheartened with your lack of support for teachers, and your apparent lack of knowledge regarding public education in British Columbia.

However, I have not given up hope that perhaps you will educate yourself on the current situation of “bare bones” resources and support being stretched thinner in schools each year, as teachers, administrators, and education support workers across the province try to meet the challenges and demands of providing a healthy and vibrant learning environment in our public schools, with ever-increasing cuts and decreasing funding.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies also to education; if you consistently and systematically underfund public education, the results will be cuts to vital programs and services, crowded and ill-equipped classrooms, struggling teachers, and students whose learning needs cannot be effectively, or even adequately, met. Teachers have been funding their classrooms out of their own pockets for years, but as school operating budgets have shrunk, they have felt pressured to pay for more supplies and teaching materials themselves.

Parent Advisory Councils, likewise, have been increasingly under pressure to fundraise money for schools, not only for school trips, but for playgrounds and a variety of equipment, materials and supplies that should be publicly funded by the government. Our schools have become bare boned; many have been forced to close and many services and job positions have been cut. Classroom teachers, support workers, and specialist educators such as learning assistance teachers and school counsellors are often stretched very thin with work demands that exceed what we have time to accomplish.

I see the school secretaries working overtime without pay on a regular basis, because their hours have been increasingly cut. I see teachers putting in long hours at school on the weekends, as well as working through lunch hours and recess breaks, to keep up with the demands of their very challenging classrooms. I see students who need psycho-educational testing and a designation for an individualized education plan, but cannot because we are only funded for a small number of these assessments per year. I see students on waiting lists for occupational therapy, speech therapy, and comprehensive assessments, waiting months or years for support, and often never receiving it. Several students that I counsel must share their 30-minute session times with others; I cannot see them all in a week, and must choose who is in greater need. Schools’ learning assistance programs have become triage units for those who need the most help; learning assistance teachers don’t have time for those who just need “a little boost”. Music and band programs are for most schools a thing of the past, as are full-time librarians, custodians who work during school hours, as well as specialist gym teachers and French teachers in elementary schools. “Gifted” programs no longer exist. New text books are rare. This year, our school district dismantled our district resource centre due to increasing and never-ending budget cuts. It seems that there is just nothing else left to cut.

And yet, Mr. Fassbender, you have something called “Cooperative Gains”, which is basically a sly political way to steal from Peter to pay Paul. Your strategy of giving pay raises (i.e., to CUPE education support workers) and telling the school districts that they must fund those raises by making cuts elsewhere in their budget, reminds me of the movie Sophie’s Choice — from which students will we take away much-needed support? Or how much school cleaning can we do without? Or how many old and broken desks can handle another school year? You give money to school districts, only to take it right back again (e.g., for carbon taxes and ever-rising hydro and heating costs); then you twist the numbers and tell the public how you have put so much money into education. To you, it seems, the Ministry of Education is just a set of tasks to be done by the lowest bidder — the cheaper the better, at any expense (as long as it isn’t monetary).

A CBC political analyst advised federal ministers who wanted to make a positive impact in their portfolio to become an expert in their field.  I advise you to do the same — what you have recently been saying to the media demonstrates to teachers how little you know about what is really happening in schools. Your media statements about class size, education funding, and teachers’ salary proposals were based on half-truths, exaggerations, and lies, demonstrating to me that you are either grossly misinformed about the adequacy of funding for BC’s public schools, or you are intentionally deceiving the public whom you serve, and are following a political agenda to undermine public education in B.C.

Shame on you, Mr. Fassbender, and shame on your leader, Christy Clark, and your colleagues. You are trusted with our tax dollars and our resources. Your job is to serve the public, honestly and ethically. Our most important resource is our children, and they all deserve to have a good education that is properly funded, and that is available to all. B.C. teachers are among the most highly trained in the world, and we deserve the respect of our government officials, and a fair settlement. Our province has fallen far below the national average in educational funding for students, and in teacher wages. It is time to change your “budget formula” and put the money back into education.

Sincerely,

Angela Hagen

School Counsellor

SD 85, Vancouver Island North

 

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