Dear Premier Christy Clark,
Re: Public Education
I am concerned by your approach to public education. As you may know, I have two small children. My son is in Grade 2, and my daughter, who is almost three, is already very excited about joining her big brother at school.
In the last year, our public education system was crippled during an extended labour dispute. The bad faith and mistrust between the B.C. government and the teachers' union exploded into a public feud while our children sat at home.
The government rhetoric we had to endure during the strike was deeply troubling. You maligned teachers as selfish and entitled, inaccurately stating that they wanted "unlimited massages" and implied they were not as "dedicated" as other public sector employees.
This characterization of B.C. teachers is not consistent with my experience. My son has had incredible teachers who have helped him grow, learn and mature. Many of my own teachers I now count as friends, and many of my peers have gone on to become teachers. They are patient and dedicated, and they love their jobs.
Despite a demeaning public relations war, I understand you were, in the end, instrumental in moving the eventual labour agreement forward, and I am grateful for the part you played in this. Then, you proclaimed "five years of labour peace ahead of us." That seems to imply that this fragile relationship would receive the attention necessary to rebuild it over the coming months.
So when your government introduced the 2015 budget and it featured further cuts to public education, you can imagine that I was dismayed. It was difficult not to be cynical when I read that your government was seeking $29 million in "administrative efficiencies" from the public school boards this year and then increased the budget for independent schools by $30 million.
School board trustees have been trying to draw blood from their stone budgets for years. To suggest they should just harvest the "low-hanging fruit" suggests that they have not been searching for efficiencies. This language -- so far removed from the reality of the people tasked with carrying out these cuts -- reminds me of the unhelpful way you characterized teachers during the strike.
Your cuts also affect parents. As the parent of a child in the public school system, your efficiency-finding missions have impacted my wallet as I try to fill the program and educational gaps left by diminished school funding.
It is commendable that your government has balanced three consecutive provincial budgets, but British Columbians (and our children in particular) are hardly better off because of it. Public education is the B.C. Green Party's number one priority. It is the cornerstone to building a strong society with a robust 21st century economy.
I was hoping that at the end of the strike last fall, we would have a new, more productive relationship between government and the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF). I was hoping you would take the opportunity to establish long-term labour peace in public education. That requires putting work into a relationship with the BCTF.
My children are at the beginning of their education and I cannot stand by and allow the confidence in our public education system to continue to be eroded by you and your government.
It is time for your government to set a new course. It is your mandate as a government to lead on all fronts. This is an opportunity for all of us, my children included, but it's your move. Please, Ms. Clark, take the lead and let's move our public education system forward.
Interim Leader, BC Green Party
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