February 2, 2007 by realrenewal
by John Conway, Trustee Subdivision 5
The Coalition for a Citizen-Friendly Regina (CCFR) endorsed candidates in four of the seven subdivisions for the October 2006 election. I was acclaimed, but would have preferred fighting an election. Those who hold public office, in principle, should do so because they have won election, rather than through acclamation. Of the other three CCFR candidates, two did very well. Robert Petry came within a whisker in Subdivision 3 (formerly held by retiring Board Chair Ernie Pappas), narrowly defeated by former Roughrider and retired teacher Dale West. The CCFR’s Bob Ivanochko came in a respectable second to incumbent Rhonda Parisian in Subdivision 4. Though the CCFR’s Don Wren came in well back in the pack in Subdivision 7, incumbent Garry Schenher squeaked out a 40 vote win over Angela Fraser.
The results in Subdivisions 3, 4, and 7 are significant because all three areas faced proposed school closures under the controversial “Renewal” plan. And all the incumbents, Pappas, Parisian and Schenher, initially supported that plan. However, of the three, Parisian and Schenher quickly changed their minds after facing public hostility from the community, and eagerly supported the decision to rescind the plan. In fact, both Parisian and Schenher spent a lot of time apologizing to their communities for their initial support for the ill-conceived and draconian plan to close 11 schools and move to super elementary schools. Clearly, they explained their change of heart convincingly enough to be returned to office.
Will this be a school closure Board? Will the new Board try to solve the fiscal problems of Regina Public Schools through wholesale closures, as the senior Administration had recommended? I doubt it. The election of Dr. Barbara Young in Subdivision 2 brings a voice of reason and wisdom to the table. Let us hope that reason and wisdom, as well as responsiveness to the community, will characterize the decisions of the freshly elected Board.
Phase I of Renewal Consultations complete
After the school closure mess, the Board hired an independent, external consultant, Harvey Linnen, to embark on a long, thorough consultation process. This time, the senior Administration and elected Trustees stayed out of the process, rather than trying to steer it to foregone conclusions, as happened last time. The report on Phase I is now a public document. The next phase will ask the public to respond to four very broadly defined options in the context of the system’s problems of declining enrolments, deteriorating physical infrastructure, and available resources: larger schools/specialized programs; larger schools/general programs; smaller schools/specialized programs; smaller school/general programs. Elected Trustees will again stay back from the process to allow fully free public input, though members of the senior Administration will serve as resource persons at the meetings.
After that process is complete, the senior Administration, with direction from the Board, will prepare a detailed renewal plan with specifics on the future of Regina Public Schools. After approval by a majority of the Board, the plan will be presented to public meetings for reaction and comment. The final amended plan will then be again presented to the public from December 2007 to March 2008, at which time the Board will make final decisions for implementation in the 2008-2009 school year.
I urge you all to become involved in this second phase of the consultation.
The Pepsi Contract
On 6 January 2007 the Board approved in principle entering into a monopoly agreement with Pepsi for a beverage services contract covering the entire school division. This decision was approved by a majority of the Board. I strongly opposed the motion and the vote was recorded at my request. It is a sweet deal in more ways than one, but the details of both the contract and the money involved are still confidential. You may wonder why this decision didn’t make press headlines. The deal was discussed and approved in a closed session, and all the details we discussed remain embargoed. I can’t tell you the details yet. But I will as soon as the embargo is lifted. Certainly the deal is better in dollar and equity terms than the old system when each individual school entered into secret monopoly agreements – some did very well, others got taken to the cleaners.
Nevertheless I opposed the plan and I would rescind it in the blink of an eye. I do not believe that publicly elected Trustees should sell the 20,000 children in the Regina Public School System as a captive market to a private corporation. Even when a good deal of money is given to the Board to buy our souls, the company is not doing it out of the goodness of its heart. Pepsi stands to make big profits – 20,000 kids is a huge market. Further, by getting monopoly access to the children, Pepsi is able to brainwash the kids into brand loyalty from K to 12.
What is the message we are sending our kids? We are for sale to the highest bidder in the private sector. The public school system itself should organize and provide beverage services. Then all surplus funds (including Pepsi’s healthy profit margin) would be ploughed back into student activities in our schools.
Furthermore, this kind of contract does nothing to contribute to encouraging healthy beverage choices among our children. Our half-baked beverage policy has eliminated carbonated soft drinks from the schools, but sill only requires that 50 per cent of choices be healthy, while the other 50 per cent can be sports drinks and fruit-based soft drinks. These latter often contain more sugar than carbonated soft drinks. If the whole beverage system were controlled by the school division, including parents in local schools, it would be possible to exceed the minimum set out in Board policy and go far beyond these inadequate minimum standards for healthy drink choices. You can bet Pepsi won’t.
We are still very far from a policy to limit the choices we present to our children in our schools to healthy drinks, and to keep the crap in the corner store where it belongs.