Letters to the Editor

Poppycock on election timing

Editor, The News:

Re: Where does school board stand? (Letters, July 23).

In response to Maple Ridge Teacher’s Association president George Serra asking where does the board stand: Yes, there is an election coming in November.

Mr. Serra insinuates that the only reason or time our board actively displays any form of advocacy around public education must be tied to an election.

I call Poppycock.

I will agree that writing letters may seem futile given the state of the system at the current time. But this battle goes far beyond the seven trustees in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district and its 14,000 students.

This battle carries on at the provincial level, with the combination of the BCTF and the provincial government holding students, parents and teachers hostage.

It’s shameful that it carries on to this degree in 2014 in Canada.

When I offered my candidacy as a representative of and to my community in the 2008 school board election, it was with recognition and determination that political agendas were on the back burner and there was no room for taking sides; it was with my history of being part of common-sense decision making; neutrality and fairness.

Isn’t it the absolute taboo of making up a board of directors of any organization to have a slant to one particular group or agenda?

What is most troubling for me as a trustee who has spent 27 years in Pitt Meadows, volunteered extensively in the community, with children, parents, teachers and support staff from preschool to high school, is that the executive of the MRTA has chosen to disregard all we have done, as individuals and as a board, to be part of positive things in our school district.

I say MRTA executive because I run into teachers and support staff often, who refer to our board as a collaborative group that is approachable and proud to be part of the great things that happen for students here.

These same teachers sympathize with the position boards are in at the moment. They don’t want to be in this position either. They indicate that they know the decisions are far beyond our district, have said that they appreciate our neutrality, our demeanor, our common sense.

This doesn’t mean they don’t tell me how frustrating and financially frightening the situation has been, but we are not being blamed for it nor expected to solve the provincial fiasco here.

I’ve heard over and over that my contributions are appreciated. Teachers that speak to me are respectful, thankful, and seemingly hold our position in high regard.

I’ve had support staff call and email and thank us for listening at public meetings regarding budget input. They know what decisions we had to make were gut wrenching and said they’d hate to be in our shoes, but don’t want to see a board weighted one way either.

Our open mindedness is referred to as a most necessary way to operate an organization subject to labor unrest.

A publicly elected board discusses matters of  land, labor and legal nature in closed sessions. Suffice to say, bargaining clearly lands under labour.

Mr. Serra indicates that we would not engage in a public discussion around bargaining at a public meeting. He wanted to know where our board “stood.”

Well, it doesn’t seem to be a news flash that the whole province is undergoing labor strife, and I’m yet to meet anyone who says they love it and hope to see parties fight it out til the bitter end.

It isn’t even so much that we wouldn’t enter the conversation because of labor confidentiality. What would there be to say?

And what could the seven of us do that would knock Jim Iker and Peter Cameron out of the ballpark and settle?

This is a Goliath size fight going on.

Where do we stand?

I return to the ideology behind open minded publicly elected officials not having agendas or political slants.

Where do we stand? We want students to be learning, we want to see teachers doing what they love,  and we want our public system funded at a level that provides for that to take place harmoniously.

Right now, we are at the mercy of the BCTF and the provincial powers that be, just like every other board of education across the province.

Our letter writing is solely connected to an upcoming election? Give me a break. This board has been highly active in conversing with the minister and MLAs right  at our board table,  as well as through letters for years. We speak up at the B.C. School Trustees Association.

The MRTA executive tells us at our public meetings that we need to be providing more advocacy for public education. Some of our trustees have attended public rallies at MLA offices in order to highlight the need for a settlement and adequate funding. Yet when our board drafted a letter to the education minister and our MLAs, citing the areas that need immediate attention, the MRTA refused to sign that letter supporting that action. When we discussed the contents of that letter at our last meeting, the MRTA executive was busy chatting rather than paying attention to what this board is actually doing, attempting to make positive impact in what feels like a messed up system these days.

When teachers emailed us directly about strike concerns, we’d send them a copy of that letter, and they didn’t know it existed and were pleasantly surprised by our advocacy.

Mr. Serra feels letter writing is ineffective. So would he rather that we make obnoxious public displays and be in front of evening news cameras on a regular basis? Not my style.

The MRTA executive has informed us that it has taken a non-confidence vote in our abilities as a board. Seems odd to me, when every teacher that I run into keeps telling me what a great job we do under terrible pressure and circumstances and that they hope to see that continue.  I reiterate, this doesn’t mean those teachers aren’t unhappy and concerned. But they don’t lambaste and demoralize our character like their ‘leader’ does. He suggests that he doesn’t answer to the BCTF?

So where does the MRTA stand? Not the executive, the membership.

“The public has no idea where the board stands ... just the way we like it.”

Mr. Serra is entitled to his opinion.  But so is the public.

From what I understand, the public feels better with common sense, broad view decision making that considers fairness to all, not just one group.

All I ever wanted to do as a trustee, as a parent, as a friend, as a citizen, was be part of making good decisions for kids. It feels like kids are on the back burner while the multi-faceted provincial agenda fire rages on.

Mr. Serra’s comments are little more than bullying and grandstanding, behaviour us “politicians” are frowned upon for stooping to.

Our board has been recognized as one of the most progressive, collaborative and fair among many districts.

Mr. Serra, in suggesting this board be completely replaced, might be careful what to wish for. School districts are comprised of many different interests.

My interest is students.

Eleanor Palis, trustee

School District No. 42

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