Rally for education funding

Severe cuts, children's education and safety 'at risk'

Liberal MLA Marc Dalton listens to protesters Friday.

Liberal MLA Marc Dalton listens to protesters Friday.

More than 150 parents and teachers with placards rallied at the office of Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton on Friday afternoon in the first of a planned series of protests demanding more education funding.

“School districts across B.C. have recently passed budgets with cuts so severe that our children’s education and physical safety are at risk,” rally organizer Stacy MacLennan said to the crowd at the corner of Dewdney Trunk Road and 230th Street.

An estimated 160 people joined and departed from the protest over about 90 minutes on Friday, as the work week was ending.

There were parents with their children, teachers and local politicians. Passing cars honked their support for the protesters.

Katie Jonas brought her two toddlers, carrying homemade signs saying “Don’t cut my future” and “What will be left for me.”

“More people have to come out and stand up for teachers,” Jonas said. “This is so much support. It’s pretty awesome.”

She has eight years of seniority in the Coquitlam district, but both she and her husband, also a teacher, were given layoff notices as that district wrestled with a $13.4 million budget shortfall.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows board has cut more than $5 million from its 2014-2015 school year budget, which included CUPE and teacher positions, and instituted a $215 annual fee for bussing students.

MacLennan, a parent, said the removal of full-time secretaries in some local schools will create safety risks, and the ongoing cuts to teacher librarians, high school career centres and specialized teachers and programs will affect students directly.

“The government has legislation that education is an essential service, yet its funding does not reflect that,” she said.

She called on the government to “stop bullying teachers” and negotiate a fair contract, to stop “disrespecting the courts,” and restore class-size language into the teachers’ contract.

Veteran teacher Maynard Embree urged the people assembled to consider not returning the current group of school board trustees to office in the coming municipal election.

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” said Embree.

Selina Robinson, NDP MLA for Coquitlam Maillardville, said there are 15 districts that have been forced to cut $1 million or more this year. Others are using contingency funds, which means they have no “rainy day” fund in case of unforeseen expenses.

“The school boards are trying to protect the classrooms,” she said. “So just because they’re not making staff cuts, doesn’t mean they’re not in trouble.”

Dalton arrived from an appointment in Mission almost an hour after the rally started. He began to address the rally, but was shouted down.

“Download it on the trustees – let them pay the price,” yelled one.

“What about families first?” heckled another.

After organizers intervened on his behalf, Dalton was able to speak, and said the government is trying to live within its budget.

“I appreciate their commitment to education, and the passion,” Dalton said after about the protesters. “It’s hard for me to hear about staff being laid off.

“We’re doing the best we can with the means we have.”

Maple Ridge trustee Sarah Nelson said it was gratifying to see parents demonstrating.

“They want to feel heard,” she said. “And beyond being heard, they want to see change.”

Nelson has already said she will not stand for re-election, citing the frustration with the ever-tightening budget situation.

Scott Susin, one of the organizers of the rally and a teacher, thought it was a success.

“It’s inspiring – it’s really fantastic,” said Susin. “People are frustrated, because it’s been going on for too long.”

He intervened so Dalton could speak, but was forgiving of the crowd.

“People want to be heard, and it’s hard not get emotional because you’re dealing with kids.”

MacLennan said the rally will be back at Dalton’s office at 4 p.m. on Thursday. A previous effort had a much smaller rally the week before, attracting only 10 adults and four children. She can see momentum building, though, and wants to have rallies at the office of every MLA around the province.

“We will keep doing it until the crowds are so immense that they have no choice but to change.”