There are many issues that are important in public education. The obvious is the need to restore proper funding for public education in B.C. This includes stopping the continual provincial downloading of costs. Given this very challenging environment, other areas of “education” are often not given the full funding support that is required.
There is one particular issue that warrants our collective attention in Vancouver. This is the state of our school facilities. It is very important to agree and implement a long-term plan that will ensure all our schools are seismically upgraded, mechanically sound, and properly maintained for longevity and cost savings. To me, this election is pivotal because the groundwork is meticulously laid to mutually move this issue forward to a long-term implementation plan. As the chair of the board’s planning and facilities committee for six years, there have been a number of initiatives undertaken that provide the district/public to effectively advocate for a detailed funded plan.
How do we advocate? We need to be truly objective on this issue because the facts speak for themselves and reasonableness will prevail. District staff have done a superb job in presenting detailed reports that cannot be ignored. This helps in advocacy. Not only for trustees, but also for our stakeholders, the community, and particularly for the Ministry of Education, so we may mutually lobby the Treasury Board to fund our long-term plan. This is a nonpartisan issue.
The district is now in a strong position for advocacy due to the work of the board in three areas.
First is the Comprehensive Assessment (audit) for VSB School Buildings With Significant Seismic Risk Report that the district just released earlier this month. It is important to keep the Ministry of Education and stakeholder groups fully involved for mutual agreement. That is why the report incorporates studies that were jointly produced by the Ministry of Education and the City of Vancouver. Buy-in by all is crucial. The report allows us to look at the remaining 48 high-risk schools to be analyzed as a group and to ensure a 10-year plan is implemented. We can no longer submit annual requests to the province and just hope for funding. No rhyme nor reason was given by the province as to why some years no schools advanced for seismic upgrades.
Second is the Facility Renewal Fund Requirements Report that was presented earlier this year by staff. Results of the condition and green assessments, conducted by provincially supported VFA, on district schools. The report concludes that $453 million will be required for district building renewals over the next five years just to maintain our older schools (majority of our 109 schools are over 50 years old—some are over a century old). So this issue is not just a seismic request, it is a request just to maintain our schools cost effectively and not wait for mechanical and further deterioration that may be presented by a proactive stance.
Finally, I believe the board has fostered a professional and parallel agreement with the community’s/students’/parents’ demands for a decade to understand the seismic issue and to jointly approach all levels of government (councillors, MLAs, and MPs of Vancouver). The board et al. has worked with the province which announced, in 2005, the 15-year, $1.5-billion school seismic plan.
The board supports that 15-year plan and has worked hard to lay the groundwork to ensure that we achieve what all agree upon.
This is an issue that is understood by all. We just need the leadership to ensure everyone is continually together to implement the 10-year plan. The important next step is for the board to establish an effective VBE Facilities Program Office that will aggressively implement the long-term capital plan. Again, a properly funded coordinated program office is the most efficient method to plan and implement the plan. You can count on COPE to advocate for a better Vancouver.
Allan Wong is a father of four school-aged children. He graduated from UBC’s multicultural teachers' education program, was a teacher-on-call in Vancouver and Richmond for five years, and has been a Telus employee for 23 years. Wong is the chair of the Vancouver board of education’s planning and facilities committee, a member of the city’s bicycle advisory committee, and a four-term Coalition of Progressive Electors school trustee who is seeking reelection this November.