1) What is the most important issue facing the Board of Education, and how would you propose to deal with it?
The single most significant issue being faced by Boards of Education everywhere is need for an informed conversation concerning the provision of education as a public good. As a public good, education in Canada has for many years been available to all and free to recipients at the point of delivery. However, the cumulative effects of unco-ordinated decision making by the various levels of government over the last several years has begun to seriously undermine a system that has served Canada well since the time of Confederation.
My view is that important public goods, like universal education and health care, that have defined us as a nation, must not be allowed to become collateral damage due to a largely imported economic debacle. Yet, governments at all levels have chosen to underfund these important activities while accumulating surpluses. Various changes in funding transfer arrangements between levels of government have also had a negative impact on education as a public good.
For example, at the federal level, the imposed change to what is called ‘block funding’, combined funding to provinces for health and education into one annual amount, have in effect reduced the funding available for health and educational programs administered by the provinces. This unilaterally imposed change was, in my view both unnecessary and undesirable. It has had the effect of imposing a health care or education ‘Sophie’s Choice’ on citizens of this country, a circumstance some might characterize as a ‘wedge politics’ of the most cynical kind.
This and other changes in support for health and educational programming now seriously imperil the provision of quality of the health and educational programs in Canada. And all of this has arisen at a time when there are surpluses at the federal level significant enough to warrant federal soul searching as to how to best spend this excess. I believe it is time for all of us, whether we have children or not, to reaffirm our belief as Canadians in the contribution of both public education and health care to our nation’s progress. We need to restate our values for the benefit of those who may not appreciate them and add our concerns to the debate about how federal surpluses should be distributed.
Quality education as a public good, that is, education that is available to all and free at the point of delivery, has proven itself time and time again to be the best possible investment in our future. It along with universal health care has been the essence of Canada for over 50 years. Seeing it being dismantled in front of our eyes should engage us all in a values based debate over the future of our children and this nation, should it be allowed to continue.
2) Should the school district sell surplus school sites to help fund capital projects in Willoughby?
If necessary, yes.
This is not a desirable option, because it does not address how school boards will be able to build more capital projects, when all the land is gone, and how new land will be acquired in the future. Experience has shown that land costs only ever go up, and this option in my opinion is not well thought out future planning.
But, as a district we are in a critical place, we need more schools, if the provincial government will not, despite pressure, provide adequate funding for these needed spaces, then we must meet the need for space for our students and sell surplus land.
3) Is there enough timely communication between the board and the two local governments regarding development and its impact on school population?
The current board has worked closely with the municipalities to ensure that there is a mutual understanding of the issues arising out of development. Although no one should claim that the level of communication is perfect, in my view it is generally as timely and often as is necessary to meet the needs of both the board and the municipalities.
4) What is the best way to deal with class size and composition issues, so that all students get the maximum attention from teachers?
At risk of restating the obvious, the purpose of each school district is to provide the highest quality education in the most efficient manner possible for the children it serves. Like many education-related issues, class size and composition obviously involves pedagogical and financial considerations and these, I believe are best reconciled through informed discussions between senior leadership and teachers.
Given the diversity between and even within districts, issues such as class size and composition are generally not satisfactorily resolvable through hard and fast rules. However, the fact that this is so should not be accepted as an excuse to underfund education. Furthermore, it should be clearly recognized by now that divisive non-collaborative methods do not work.
Class size and composition is complex and, in my view, should be addressed continuously, thoughtfully and in a meaningful way by teachers and the district’s leadership team from the common perspective of meeting the needs of students in a realistic way.