Gwen Giesbrecht: Entrenched fees and fundraising threaten universal promise of schools
I first became involved with the Vancouver school board in 2003 as a mother active in my child’s public elementary school. As a single parent with a modest income, contributing money for fees and fundraising brought some pressure. The energy to be an advocate came more easily.
Soon, as a representative on the District Parent Advisory Council executive, I grew aware of many other parents struggling with the problems posed by the chronic provincial underfunding, a situation that has resulted in parents supplementing the public system by fundraising and fee paying. Such efforts, though well-meaning, can never sustain a strong public education system.
Once restricted to occasional efforts for extras, fundraising at auctions, bazaars, plant sales, and direct appeals, and collecting fees for workbooks, school supplies, and course enriching field trips have escalated, becoming ubiquitous. The reality now sees parents paying for necessities and trying to patch up budget shortfalls. A haphazard approach that creates inequities in student experience, and puts financial strain on many households.
In a rich urban setting, all students need unrestricted opportunities to visit art galleries, walk the beaches, investigate museums, and explore the built environment. Such experiences both broaden curriculum and educate citizens to feel at home in every part of the city. Yet the gap between raising $4,000 at one school and $40,000 at another of comparable size can limit those experiences. This gap certainly highlights material differences between students that should not be evident in classrooms. It is true that procedures exist for individuals to have fees excused; however, for parents unable to pay or contribute to fundraising, pleading hardship is demoralizing and demeaning. A throwback to the worst practices of the nineteenth century, this reminds me of Oliver Twist, humbly begging for more gruel. In the 21st century, public education advocates need to reinforce the universal promise of schools and work to eliminate the inequities that continue to mar them.
As a DPAC representative, I felt that entrenched “parent supplemental funding” posed a danger to the direction of public education and I recognized that I spoke for many who really need to be heard on that and other issues. As a COPE candidate for VSB school trustee, I am motivated by my ongoing commitment to improving the board’s relationship with students, parents, and employees and by my willingness to advocate for schools as the touchstone of every neighbourhood. With all that faces the VSB, from new technologies, to services for students with special needs, to reaching parents with varied perspectives, my practicality and my keen awareness of emerging educational issues will be assets to a newly elected, progressive board of trustees.
Gwen Giesbrecht is a Coalition of Progressive Electors candidate for the Vancouver school board. Giesbrecht is a long-term resident of East Vancouver, a small business owner, and the parent of a school-aged child. She has sat on the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council executive for the past five years, serving two years as chairperson, giving her an understanding of the important issues in the district.