A discussion about a response to the head of the provincial school trustees association took a sudden and dramatic turn, leading the School District 69 (Qualicum) Board of Trustees to vote to boycott a scheduled visit by Minister of Education Mike Bernier later this month.
Bernier is scheduled to visit area schools and meet with the board Nov. 23, part of a tour of the province's public schools system.
"I've seen these minister visits in the past," Trustee Julie Austin said during the board's monthly meeting Oct. 25 at the board office in Parksville. "They are photo ops — we show the great things we're doing in the district; they tell us the great things the province is doing. I don't think they're that useful.
"I think this (boycott) does make a point. I'd like us to take a stand like that."
The board had been debating a motion brought by Austin to ask B.C. School Trustees Association (BCSTA) president Teresa Rezansoff to rescind her letter supporting the ministry's firing of the entire Vancouver School Board last month.
Trustee Barry Kurland, arguing against the motion, agreed the government was undermining the democratic process by firing a duly elected board for failing to submit a balanced budget. But, he said, "The real culprits are the one underfunding education for the last 20 years. These are the people dismissing these boards. We should boycott (Bernier) and hand him a letter about not funding schools."
Trustee Elaine Young, who submitted the original motion on Rezansoff's statement, responded immediately.
"You make that motion, and I'll vote for it," Young said.
"There's one motion on the floor right now," board chair Eve Flynn reminded everyone.
That was quickly dispatched when the board voted 3-2 to forward a request to Rezansoff to rescind her support of the firing of the Vancouver School Board, which is not a member of BCSTA. Austin, Young and Jacob Gair voted for it, while Kurland and Flynn opposed the motion.
Kurland then improvised a motion calling for the board to boycott Minister Bernier's Nov. 23 visit to the district, exempting Flynn while directing the chair to deliver a letter to Bernier with the board's statement calling on the province to provide "sustainable, adequate and predictable" funding for public education.
SD69 Superintendent Rollie Koop asked to be recognized and asked whether such a boycott would be the best way to get the board's point across.
"This is one of those difficult moments where senior staff is caught in that place where we serve two masters," said Koop. "The minister is embarking on a tour of B.C., hitting of districts around the province and provide an opportunity for trustees to meet face-to-face and share their concerns and issues and causes of celebration, and also to showcase something happening in schools that deserves to be shared in front of those decision-makers.
"I understand the position and the clear message you want to send aboud funding for education; I challenge whether you can make that case more directly to him. I'd ask you to consider whether your role for advocacy for public education is better served by turning down a meeting, or sitting down face-to-face."
Flynn said the Vancouver Island School Trustees Association (VISTA) had been attempting unsuccessfully to meet with Bernier.
"We now have an opportunity to do that as our own board, and I think that would be a missed opportunity," she said.
Kurland apologized for putting Koop and Flynn on the spot, but said education is the second-most important portfolio in the province, behind health, and he has tired of it being treated like a political football.
"I think these people are traveling around, I think election's coming and they want everyone to see how well they fit into education; there will be lots of platitudes about how education in this province is second to none. I've heard it all before.
"It's going to cause some discomfort, but we can write all the letters we want and send them off, but we don't show up. Maybe it's time we stopped playing games, at least among ourselves."
The motion was approved 4-0, with Flynn abstaining.