On SD40 and their Child Care Space funding request

Recently New Westminster’s school district (SD40) took a look at asking the provincial government for funding to supply some child care spaces at their schools. This is great! Child care is lacking in New Westminster and we need more.

What isn’t great is that the school district plans to ask for funding for 136 spaces for children that aren’t attending New Westminster schools. I don’t think that this is acceptable, so I wrote a letter to the New West Board of Education to ask them to fund school age child care spaces. Here’s the letter!

Dear SD40 Board of Education,

My name is Brad Cavanagh, I am a New Westminster resident and parent of a child at Qayqayt Elementary. I am writing to you regarding the proposed request for provincial funding for addition of child care spaces at four New Westminster schools. The proposed plan would request funding for 136 spaces for infants, toddlers, and children from ages of 3 to 5.

In my opinion, this plan is inadequate and contrary to what the school district should be requesting.

There is a need for child care spaces for children of all ages in New Westminster; this is not in question. However, infant, toddler, and preschool age child care spaces are relatively easier to open by third parties than school age spaces are. Logistics alone make school age child care spaces difficult, as getting children to and from school is challenging. Finding employees who can work split shifts across eleven hours of the day can be difficult. Leasing a space that remains empty for nearly seven hours a day is expensive, or requires complicated sharing arrangements. This all leads to a lack of child care spaces for school aged children. Having funding provided by the provincial government for child care spaces at schools these spaces will help with some of these logistical difficulties.

Further, the role of the school district is to provide education and services for school age children. The school district already provides services for this age group, and providing before and after school spaces for this age group slots in well with those services and aligns with the school district’s purpose.

The report states that the District recognizes the importance of child care on site at its schools to support families, enrolment and welcoming future students to school communities. Shouldn’t the District’s current students be a priority?

Anecdotally, I recently asked my daughter’s before and after school care provider (Westminster Children’s After School Society at Qayqayt Elementary) if they had any open spaces, as a friend’s before and after school care provider will be closing in May. They told me that not only do they not have any openings, they have a waitlist of nearly 180 children. Their other centres have huge waitlists as well; this is not a number that’s out of the ordinary for this school age child care provider.

I urge you to consider modifying the request for child care funding to drastically increase the number of school age child care spaces, as it aligns with the school district’s purpose and better serves children that currently attend New Westminster’s schools.

Brad Cavanagh.

New West School District and the driver’s licence that isn’t ID

When you register you child to be enrolled in the New Westminster School District, you need to supply some kind of proof that you actually live in New Westminster. This proof consists of two pieces of documentation.

The first is one that shows some kind of tie to a piece of property located in New Westminster. This can be a property purchase agreement, a long-term tenancy agreement, or a property tax statement with home owner grant eligibility. I would like to point out that a property purchase agreement is not a proof that you actually live in the property you’ve purchased, because people do in fact buy property outside of the city in which they live. And let’s ignore all of those people living in co-op housing that don’t have any of those three pieces of documentation because they haven’t purchased property, they aren’t tenants, and they only indirectly pay property tax.

The second piece of ID can be one of the following: an income tax statement showing name and province of residency, correspondence from a government agency, a letter from a lawyer confirming your application of long term stay in BC, a letter from Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Canada confirming your application of long term stay in BC, vehicle registration, a recent paystub, a Medical Services Plan health card or enrollment letter, or a BC Identification Card.

Conspicuously missing from this list is a BC Driver’s Licence, which is the primary piece of identification for most people in BC.

When we registered Elizabeth for kindergarten, we only had recent paystubs, income tax statements, and an MSP health card. We lived in a co-op, so we didn’t have any proof of ties to an actual residence in New Westminster. The MSP health card we did have was one of the old style cards that only had the account number and our name on it, so that wouldn’t do for proof of address.

Needless to say at the time we were pretty pissed. I ranted a bunch on Twitter about it (not like I ever do that sort of thing) and eventually one of the School Trustees (Michael Ewen) called me and said he’d try to get things changed.

Given we eventually managed to get Elizabeth registered for school in New Westminster we forgot all about this, but trusted that the school district would actually change the documentation requirements.

Then a couple of days ago a friend of ours was registering her son in kindergarten in New Westminster and was bemoaning all of the documentation she had to pull together. I looked at the current registration form and lo and behold a BC Driver’s Licence still isn’t listed!

So I ranted a bunch on Twitter again, and here’s what two School Trustees had to say:

The underlying argument is that a BC Driver’s Licence isn’t allowed because you can just call up ICBC and change your address, so the address on your BC Driver’s Licence isn’t trustworthy as a proof of residence.

That argument is garbage for a number of reasons.

First, Section 31 of the Motor Vehicle Act states:

If the residential address of the holder of a driver’s licence issued under this Act is changed from the address stated on the driver’s licence, he or she must, within 10 days of the change of residential address, notify the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia of the change stating the number of his or her driver’s licence and his or her former and new addresses.

That means that by law the address on your driver’s licence must be your residential address.

Second, to change the address on your BC Identification Card, which is listed as acceptable documentation, you only have to call up ICBC and change your address. It’s the same procedure as for a driver’s licence, yet one card is accepted while another isn’t.

Third, one of the pieces of identification is a vehicle registration. Same change of address routine applies for that as for BCID.

Fourth, one of the pieces of identification is an income tax statement. This doesn’t have to have your residential address on it, it could have an entirely different mailing address on it. It could be a PO box, and I’m pretty sure those aren’t large enough to live in.

Fifth, every school district bordering New Westminster that requires a second piece of ID accepts a BC Driver’s Licence! Vancouver does, Burnaby does, Richmond does, Surrey does, Coquitlam does, Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows does, but New Westminster doesn’t.

Jonina Campbell says that the “district wants to make sure that seats go to students living in New West.” This is a fine goal, but the documentation required does absolutely nothing to actually ensure this. Suppose I live in Burnaby. I buy an apartment in New Westminster and rent it out. Because I have a purchase agreement for a property in New Westminster, that checks off the first piece of required identification. Then I get a PO box in New Westminster and have my income tax statements sent there. Now I have a second piece of required identification. My children can now go to school in New Westminster, even though they live in Burnaby, and everything that I’ve given the school district “proves” I reside in New Westminster.

Now, allowing a driver’s licence doesn’t fix this, as any of the other pieces of ID could be used. However, it has much stricter requirements that the address is actually your legal residential address than any of the other pieces of ID they allow. It’s the only one that is actually required by law to be your residential address. And yet the less stringent pieces of ID are allowed.

This nonsense has been going on for more than three years, and despite assurances from School Trustees nothing has changed. The School District drags its heels while parents scramble to comply with their outdated and completely illogical requirements. Will things change this time with two trustees looking into it? I’m not holding my breath.

Take May Day out of the schools and into the community

In New Westminster we have a May Day celebration that’s currently being put on by the school district. Elementary school children perform dances in Queen’s Park and a Royal Suite, made up of a boy and girl from each elementary school, is selected.

Back in November 2015 the New Westminster Board of Education directed that a task force be formed to examine the district’s participation in the annual May Day celebration. The report from that task force is now out, and here are some quotes taken from a survey done of district staff. Remember, the school district handles the event, and most of the planning and implementation falls on teachers, principals, and other district staff members, so they’re intimately familiar with what it takes to produce the May Day celebrations and how much effort it takes.

“…a generalized unhappiness and concern over the cost, the educational time lost in preparation for the event, the amount of preparation work involved in addition to an already challenging workload and the current relevance the existing May Day program has in 21st century learning…”

“…too much time diverted from teaching and learning. Too much energy and time reinforcing colonial traditions instead of embracing a more inclusive world view…”

“…easier to continue with the event to avoid conflict rather than re-evaluate our purpose behind it.”

“…the community can continue the event and the public can choose to take part.”

“Make it fun, not forced.”

“I think the May Day is an event that was designed for one cultural group only. It does not look at first contact, the role of immigrants in the formation of BC, the contributions of women, the development of political parties, the creation of infrastructure, the creation of Indian reservations, residential schools, etc.”

“It does not fit with our redesigned curriculum, it does not fit with our multicultural focus and our First Nations lens.”

“I feel that the redesigned curriculum promotes engagement with all histories of BC, and I’ve been confused for a long time as to why New Westminster teachers have their autonomy restricted when it comes to our professional judgement to teach BC history when May Day is NOT in the curriculum specifically.”

“[May Day] reinforces a patriarchal, settler‐dominated and exclusive culture that does not reflect the values of the District’s mission or vision.”

“…the whole Royal Suite election process has been a popularity contest that has caused social problems and conflicts within the grade 5s. It is divisive and unhelpful. It is particularly divisive in a dual track school.”

“…as long as I have been in the district I can’t remember a child with a visible disability being a May Day rep.”

“Many people have little understanding of what happens to make this event happen. It is not ‘just one day.’ All staff and students are affected by this event.”

“…students lose hours of instructional time…”

“…students are negatively affected as teachers have to arrange their placement during dance instruction.”

“…an increasing number of families now choose to keep their grade 5 students home on May Day because they feel it is very repetitive after going to May Day in grades 2, 3, and 4, which shows that the event doesn’t have full parent support…”

“It’s an exercise in crowd control; it’s a ridiculous use of teacher and student classroom instructional time, and I feel very strongly that we would better otherwise engage students in a school learning environment working on creative academics, or interest‐focused end‐of-year projects.”

Is the New Westminster school system the right place for May Day celebrations? The report and survey strongly suggest that no, it isn’t. 72% of the respondents stated that May Day was no longer an important annual event for the school district. 65% felt it doesn’t promote critical engagement with the province’s history. 72% felt the Royal Suite does not align with the school district’s values of inclusion and diversity. And 84% felt it was not a good use of district staff time and resources — estimated at $50,000 — to organize and stage the May Day ceremony.

77% did feel that the May Day ceremony should be exclusively run by the community. And this is how I feel as well. When the Royal Lancers dance was cancelled by the city, the community stepped up to do it themselves. There is nothing to suggest that the same couldn’t happen with the May Day ceremony. Perhaps it could be rolled in with the popular Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery Salute held on Victoria Day to honour Queen Victoria?

So yes, let’s get the May Day celebration out of the hands of the school district and into the hands of a community organization such as the Hyack Festival Society or the organizers of the May Day picnic.

I’ll leave with this one last quote from the report:

“I agree it is time for change so let’s work together to make it effective such as connecting more to our community and history in New Westminster.”

Kudos for the NWSS Funding Announcement

The New Westminster Secondary School replacement funding announcement has been a long time in coming, and correspondingly there has been a lot of work done behind the scenes. People like me often complain about the whole process without giving praise where praise is due, so let’s stop complaining and start praising!

First and foremost, the biggest kudos belong to Jonina Campbell, chair of the school board. She has worked long and hard to keep the pressure up in getting NWSS replaced. She is a tireless advocate for education in New Westminster and deserves all of the praise anybody could ever give her. I’ve been at DPAC meetings where she’s given updates, and I could tell she was getting a little frustrated with how long things were taking, but she was professional and collected throughout the entire process. Thank you Jonina!

Praise also to the two new members of the school board trustees: Kelly Slade-Kerr and Mark Gifford. They’ve also worked hard, not only to get everything lined up from the school board’s point-of-view, but by bringing a unified, harmonious, and level-headed voice forward on behalf of everybody involved in New Westminster. Previous school boards were fairly dysfunctional, and Slade-Kerr and Gifford both brought much-needed stability and unity to the table.

Kudos to Danielle Connelly and Mona Boucher for raising the pressure on behalf of parents. The rally brought the issue to the forefront in provincial media, and that pressure helped get the funding through.

Thanks also to Judy Darcy for organizing petitions and meeting with Mike Bernier daily to make sure that replacing NWSS was truly at the top of the Ministry of Education’s list.

There are probably countless staff members at School District 40 who have worked on the plans through this entire process, making sure that all of the boxes were checked, and they deserve our thanks as well.

We’ve been waiting a long time to thank someone for getting NWSS rebuilt, so let’s thank everybody I mentioned here!

Hyack Football vs The Machine

With voting day in the School District 40 by-election just 9 days away, the usual arguments in New Westminster politics have started coming out. One of the candidates, Dee Beattie, received the endorsement of the New Westminster & District Labour Council while the other, Mary Lalji, did not. This has lead to the usual spilling of ink about how The Machine will lead Beattie to victory, as if assuming that she has no other qualifications that people may want to vote for beyond the endorsement.

And, frankly, that’s kind of the case. Both candidates offer pretty much the same things. They would both be capable school board trustees. They both want the best for the children of New Westminster. While I have issues with some of their issues (in Beattie’s case I find her previous lack of engagement with the community to be a weakness and there’s no way Richard McBride Elementary should remain standing, and in Lalji’s case I find her endorsement of school buses for Queensborough children lacking a grounding in understanding the school district’s budgetary constraints) I would be perfectly happy with either candidate becoming a school board trustee.

So in this election, I believe that the differentiation between the two candidates comes from the community of people who backs them.

In Beattie’s case, it’s labour. As she says, she’s a CUPE person. She has the backing of nearly every other person elected to public office in New Westminster, all of whom were endorsed by the NWDLC, coincidentally enough. Her lack of engagement within New Westminster is being propped up by these endorsements. To some people, that’s a plus. The NWDLC interviews candidates and endorses those that it believes offer progressive views. New Westminster is a relatively progressive city, so it only stands to reason that more people in New West would want to vote for someone that shares those views, and the endorsement by the NWDLC is a good way for candidates to show they have progressive views.

That process tends to work best in general elections where candidates are first nominated to be elected, after which they seek the NWDLC endorsement. In this by-election, a few people were interviewed by the NWDLC first, the NWDLC chose Beattie to be the endorsed candidate, and then Beattie filed her nomination papers. This strikes me as backwards and almost anti-democratic as it probably discouraged those who sought but did not receive the endorsement from running. Frankly, the more people running the better, and if even one potential candidate didn’t run because the NWDLC wouldn’t endorse them, then that’s a failure of democracy that lies in the NWDLC’s lap.

With the NWDLC endorsement comes The Machine. I’ve been told that the following is all optional but the majority of NWDLC-endorsed candidates seemed to have accepted this help in the past election. The Machine is the colloquial name for all of the machinery that comes with a political campaign: phone banks, lists of phone numbers and email addresses of potential supporters, door-to-door canvassing assistance, and election day support (driving potential supporters to the polls, calling supporters to remind them to vote, that sort of thing). Candidates often pool their resources to save money and have a more effective campaign, but additional support comes from outside (I’ve heard rumours that this is supplied by the NDP, but don’t hold me to that). Candidates are obviously free to accept and reject any part of this support; they don’t need to take all of it if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.

Side note and full disclosure: in the last municipal election I supported Patrick Johnstone both financially and by volunteering. At least, I tried to volunteer for him, but when I showed up at the campaign office he was sharing with other NWDLC-endorsed candidates (another Machine perk), I ended up being a runner to help out other volunteers who were volunteering for the entire suite of NWDLC candidates. Someone I know was in the same boat: volunteering for Johnstone but actually phone-banking on behalf of a different candidate altogether. This isn’t to call him out (I know he did a hell of a lot of campaigning on his own and raised a shedload of money from individuals in New West), this is merely to throw a little light on how The Machine works.

In this by-election there is no pooling of resources because there’s only one NWDLC-endorsed candidate. That hasn’t stopped other parts of The Machine from being put into action, however. I’ve received three phone calls (two automated, one real person) and one email from Dee Beattie’s campaign, even though I’m pretty sure I never gave her my phone number. My phone number came from someone’s list. Maybe the NDP’s — I’m a member so it could have come from them.

The Machine is up and running, and one would think that Mary Lalji stands at a disadvantage because of it.

But I think that’s actually her strength. Lalji has completely different roots in the community. She’s heavily involved with Hyack Football, which is an extremely successful group in New West. Hyack Football isn’t just the high school football team, they also do youth football and cheerleading starting from kindergarten. They’re very involved in the community, not just as an organization but they encourage students to become engaged in the community. They’re a Big Deal in New Westminster, and Lalji definitely gains support because of it.

She also works at Key West Ford, which is a major sponsor of a number of festivals and events in New Westminster. Hell, she’s their Public Relations Manager, so you know she’s got contacts with the community through that. A community that actually knows someone is more likely to support them, and this is Lalji’s strength.

A friend of mine asked me if I thought the blowback from The Machine would be as bad if Lalji was the endorsed candidate. I think it would have still been there, but not nearly as strong. There are people who are going to vote against the NWDLC-endorsed candidate no matter what. You can’t appease them, so there’s no sense in trying. But Lalji comes from outside the labour camp. She’s not a union member like Beattie is. She has strong ties to local organizations and businesses that have nothing to do with labour. There are people I know who are big backers of Hyack Football who are likely going to vote for Lalji because of that, and with an NWDLC endorsement I think they still would, because the NWDLC endorsement would have less influence than her ties to Hyack Football or other community outreach she’s done. She could have easily said “look, the NWDLC endorsement is nice because it shows I have progressive ideas, but my strength comes from my community ties”, which would have been a good way to defuse any naysayers.

Lalji’s true endorsement comes from her ties to the community and not the NWDLC. Having both endorsements would have been powerful, and if the NWDLC interviewed and rejected her, I think that’s a mistake on their part.

So now the only real differentiation between the two candidates is their backers. Lalji is backed by a large part of the community of New Westminster, and Beattie is endorsed by the NWDLC and not much of the community. All things being equal, this by-election is Hyack Football vs. The Machine.

So here’s my prediction: in this by-election I think that the NWDLC endorsement of Dee Beattie will be a larger negative than it was perceived to be in previous elections. I don’t see Mary Lalji losing this election.

Please note that this isn’t me endorsing Mary Lalji. I believe that voting is a personal and private matter, and I’m not going to tell you who I’m going to vote for. I also believe in Dogwood’s views on endorsements: read the facts, make up your own mind, and most importantly go vote for the candidate you believe in and not the candidate someone tells you to vote for.