Vancouver board of education is trying to contain parents' anger over school closures
Last night (October 25), the Vancouver board of education did a bunch of things to keep a lid on parental anger over the possible closure of Sir Guy Carleton elementary school in East Vancouver.
If this is how the board plans to run its consultation process over the next nine days of public meetings, it's clear that one of the goals of district staff is to shield trustees from political fallout.
First of all, the district chose a huge room for the first meeting: the gymnasium at Windermere secondary school. This ensured that no matter how many parents attended, it wouldn't seem full to the media who were present to record the proceedings.
A big crowd showed up, but they didn't feel crammed in.
Secondly, the board provided more than enough seating. Anyone who has organized a news conference knows that it's better to deliver bad news while people are sitting because then they're better behaved.
The organizers of the meeting also ensured that parents had to wait a long time before they could go to the microphone.
That was because superintendent Steve Cardwell didn't start speaking until about 45 minutes after the meeting was scheduled to begin. He droned on for an interminable mount of time before the first parent, Ann Wong, was permitted to have her say.
Trustees weren't put on the podium with the superintendent. Instead, they sat at a table off in the corner of the room, barely visible to most parents.
This kept them out of the firing line and largely out of the public eye.
The board also required people to register if they wanted to speak. This created a bit of a bureaucratic obstacle in a neighbourhood with a large number of people for whom English is a second language.
Unfortunately for the board, these attempts to downplay public anger were offset by the efforts of Vancouver-Kingsway NDP MLA Adrian Dix, who has proven himself to be an adept community organizer.
Unlike other East Vancouver NDP MLAs who face school closures in their constituencies, Dix has kept the school in his riding in the media spotlight.
He helped organize a rally of parents earlier this year, which generated coverage on TV newscasts. According to Wong, Dix also rallied former students and spoke to local businesses that would be affected by the closure of Carleton. The parents have also enlisted the support of other parent advisory councils.
In addition, Dix distributed an op-ed piece to the media more than a week before last night's meeting. He held another media event on the weekend to ensure that last night's main event was on the reporters' radar. Sure enough, it was well-attended by people from print, television, and radio outlets.
The community came out in force, with speakers from local organizations, alumni, and the business community. As well, there were many heartfelt presentations from parents.
The second parent spoke almost entirely in Cantonese, which ensured that this story will get lots of play in the Chinese-language media.
Dix's efforts on behalf of his constituents have put the board of education on the defensive. If trustees choose to close Carleton, Vision Vancouver could face a serious backlash in the 2011 election in the Collingwood neighbourhood, where it should reign supreme.
Vision's problems will be magnified if Coalition of Progressive Electors trustees Jane Bouey, Al Blakey, and Allan Wong break away from the rest of the pack and vote to save the school. It will create a wedge between them and the Vision and NPA trustees.
Vision park commissioner Raj Hundal and Vision councillor Kerry Jang have deep roots in the area, and both have supported Dix in the past.
But they'll be unlikely to quell the anger of Collingwood parents if Vision Vancouver trustees vote to shut down the local elementary school.
In a close election, this could make a huge difference to Vision politicians running for council and park board, as well as for the board of education.