I received identical emails about independent schools from more than one person and, since the questions are of general interest, I offer my responses here.
Dear Mr. Farrell,
I am a parent in North Vancouver with children in both the public and independent school systems and as such have an interest in the success of both public and independent schools within our community. It is important to me to support candidates in the upcoming election who share this view. I would therefore like to ask you the following questions.
What do you believe is the most pressing issues that need addressing in our public schools?
What role do you believe independent schools play in our education system?
What is your position on the sale or long term lease (50+ years) of surplus school lands for use as an independent school?
Thank you in advance for your answers.
1. What do you believe is the most pressing issues that need addressing in our public schools?
Obviously, the goal is to offer proper education for each child, as determined by professional educators and parents. Schools do not have funding to supply all the challenges that would help gifted students. Nor can they afford every service needed by other children, particularly those with special needs. Since there are many worthy areas for expenditures and limited resources, school districts must compromise regularly.
Fairly balancing disparate needs of the public school community is one of the critical issues that Trustees must address. That requires board members get maximum value for each dollar of discretionary spending.
The District has two main assets: school properties and human resources. Qualities of the first are affected by provincial funding; effectiveness of the second is driven by leadership. Choices of senior staff are influenced by the Board of Education so personnel decisions are a major priority.
2. What role do you believe independent schools play in our education system?
I sympathize with families forced to move children with learning disabilities to private schools because needed educational resources are unavailable. My position is that public schools ought to be able to meet the learning needs of any child.
I accept that some parents use private institutions because they want schools to reinforce the family’s religious heritage. That is tolerable but, I am concerned about a system of education that aims to separate children according to religion – Catholics here, Muslims there, Sikhs in another location, Jews somewhere else, etc. I prefer schools that integrate children from all backgrounds because isolation of youngsters does not offer the best preparation for living as adults in a diverse society.
Teaching religion and addressing special learning requirements are not the only motivations for choosing private schools. The so-called elite schools charge significant tuition fees but also benefit from direct government funding, income tax credits and property tax exemptions, some of which apply to very valuable lands adjacent to school buildings. The percentage increases in public funding of private schools in BC have been higher than the rates of change in operating grants for public schools. That troubles me.
I also wonder if elite schools serve our society well. American writer and educator Dr. Zachary Stein noted in his book Education in a Time Between Worlds:
The recent economic crisis has involved the best graduates from our most prestigious schools. The key players were our greatest test-takers, our academic overachievers, and those who leveraged Ivy League success to land (unconscionably) high paying jobs in the financial sector. Their greed, incompetence, and narcissistic irreverence speak eloquently to the failure of our educational systems.
3. What is your position on the sale or long term lease (50+ years) of surplus school lands for use as an independent school?
Disposition of public school properties must be examined on case by case basis. If real estate owned by school districts is certain to be unneeded in the future, it should be sold for the best possible return. However, the province establishes rules in these matters. One public policy statement includes this:
School buildings and property are also valuable public assets that can become centres for delivering education and community services that meet the vital needs of the community. Available school space should be available for alternative community use; for example, early learning, child care services, adult and industry training education programs, family resource centres, seniors’ centres, public libraries, health care and therapy services, local social services, community recreation programs.