August 16, 2006 by realrenewal
By John Conway, Trustee, Subdivision 5
The October 25 election for the Public School Board is the most significant since the battles against the cuts and closures back in the 1990s. The new Board will re-visit the so-called “renewal” plan of the current senior Administration and Board majority which proposed the closure of 10 schools in September 2006 and an eleventh in September 2007.
I opposed that plan throughout many months of closed, secret meetings, and then joined many parent groups and the general public in forcing the Board to rescind the plan when it was finally made public in late November 2005.The Board elected on 25 October 2006 will have to pick up the pieces and move forward in establishing a vision and a plan for the future of the public school system. The vision that underlay the school closure plan was not acceptable, premised as it was on the closing of small neighbourhood schools and the establishment of super elementary schools in selected existing high schools. The selected high schools would be closed as high schools, and the students re-distributed among the remaining high schools. The first area targeted for this ill-conceived plan was the Usher area – next on the list might have been the Sheldon and the Johnson areas. And so on.
I strongly believe that we must remain committed to the principle that Regina’s public school system will rest firmly on the foundation of the small, neighbourhood elementary school.
Real renewal, not an epidemic of closures
The current Board majority, due to its fiscal irresponsibility of year after year of zero mill rate increases, contributed to the decline of our physical infrastructure – a huge public investment that must be maintained. The new Board must adopt the industry standard in both public and private sectors of devoting 2 per cent of the current replacement value (CRV) of the system to its physical maintenance and upgrading. The CRV of the Regina public school system, based on insured value, is $357 million. A 2 per cent commitment would therefore cost $7.14 million a year. The current Board majority has not even reached the 1 per cent of CRV, and so the physical deterioration will continue.
The public must demand that those they elect as Trustees of this vast public investment in education diligently protect and safeguard that investment.
Health, safety, and care of our children
The current Board majority has refused to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides on school board property, contrary to the recommendations of childhood health experts. The new Board should do so.
The current Board majority refused to phase in the installation of seat belts in our school buses, commencing most urgently with those buses used for highway travel. The new Board should do so.
The current Board majority refused to ban the vending of unhealthy drinks and snacks in our schools. Reluctantly, under pressure from parents and health experts, the Board majority agreed only to ensure that 50 per cent of the vended drinks and foods must be healthy. The new Board should finish the job and insist that 100 per cent of drinks and foods vended in schools be healthy.
The current Board majority refused to provide a universal, Board-funded lunch hour supervision program. The new Board should do so, and extend the supervision to before and after school programs.
Excellence in education
The current Board majority has refused to embark on a plan to lower the pupil/teacher ratio through a staged and systematic move to smaller classes; has failed to move quickly enough in providing more preparation time for our teachers; has dragged its feet on increasing the number of teacher/librarians in the system; has refused to provide sufficient levels of paraprofessional support to our teachers in stressful classrooms; and on and on it goes.
The fact is that excellence in education costs money and the public supports a growing investment in our children. The new Board, unlike the current Board, must resist the pressures from the business lobby to hold the line on taxes, or to contemplate tax cuts, and stand up for increasing the investment in the education of our children.
The biggest source of waste in publicly funded education is the maintenance of two school systems side by side, one for Catholics and the other for everyone else. A new Board, with the courage and the vision to embark on an aggressive, pro-amalgamation campaign, could provide leadership in bringing about the amalgamation of the public and the Catholic schools systems – both of which are entirely publicly funded – into one secular public school system.
Your vote matters, especially in shaping the future of public education in the city and in the province.