It may not be a productive thought, but sometimes you can’t help but wonder, “what if?”
This thought occurred to me frequently as I sat at a recent School District #83 Community Engagement meeting on a Saturday morning.
Engagement was pretty limited, possibly the time of day – 9 a.m. on a weekend – but the crowd for official trustee Mike McKay’s session was very one-sided. Of the roughly 60 people in attendance, approximately 17 were not employed in some way by the school district.
While there were informative presentations from many of the senior staff on the budget, human resources and student supports, it seemed to be a lot of preaching to the choir.
What struck me, however, was how many of the school district’s most pressing financial issues have been given some breathing room.
The previous board was grappling with ever-shrinking finances and the need to make some pretty dramatic shifts in educational spending in order to balance the budget. These included community hot-button topics like school closures focusing on Silver Creek and Armstrong Elementary, implementing bus fees for students and amalgamating or changing grade configurations to maximize student spaces in schools.
These suggestions were causing significant angst in the region – although the situation was undoubtedly exacerbated by the revelations that, for years, surplus funds from the school district’s budget were being funneled into building the new administrative offices. The dynamics of the board rapidly deteriorated into dysfunctional under the weight, with three trustees resigning prior to the education minister stepping in.
The combination proved ultimately fatal for the previous trustees, who were dumped from their jobs, after an intensive review by special advisor Liz Watson.
McKay was brought in to replace the board with a mandate to deal with these issues. Then, suddenly, the Liberal government – likely tired of bad press from our school district and a multitude of others who were also looking at school closures and bus fees – began throwing money at the education system like darts at a board in a British pub.
Parents paying for school buses was taken off the table with additional funding for transportation. Funds miraculously appeared to keep schools considered for closure open.
This was acknowledged at Saturday’s meeting, where Mc-
Kay still noted there may be discussions around school closures, but the pressing need to make serious cutbacks has been alleviated.
Clearly, cheesed-off parents at election time can hold a lot of sway. With Christy Clark’s government headed for a May, 2017 vote, the timing seems pretty self-serving.
But I wonder how many former trustees are now left wondering “what if?”