parents strike on school councils

Zero out of five. One out of five. One out of five.

Zero out of five. One out of five. One out of five. One out of six. One out of five.

Remind you of someone bombing their French quizzes back in school?

No, it’s the number of volunteers who stepped forward to fill empty Yukon school council positions this fall.

Grey Mountain Elementary has five spots on its council. Zero volunteers. Only one parent stepped forward out of the hundreds at each of Selkirk, Whitehorse Elementary, Hidden Valley, Holy Family, Mayo’s JV Clark, Robert Service School in Dawson, St. Elias School in Haines Junction and Ross River. Only two stepped forward to fill the seven spots at Porter Creek High. Fifteen schools had fewer volunteers than needed.

This is remarkable. The Yukon has a very active and engaged citizenry. Everyone seems to be on two or three boards or run a charity or sports league in their spare time. Thousands of volunteers step forward for the Arctic Winter Games, and events like the Skagway road relay are paragons of community engagement. I can’t even keep track of how many people have put their names on the city council ballot.

Yukoners also love their children and care about their education as much as anyone else.

So it is very worrying to see that parents have apparently gone on strike and refused to volunteer for school councils.

I used to chair the school council at Whitehorse Elementary, and sat on the one at F.H. Collins high school. I asked a dozen former council members at those and other schools what they thought about school councils and why they weren’t spending their time on council any more.

The responses aren’t pretty. The Department of Education has done a thorough job of alienating some very talented and engaged people, who are now enthusiastically building other organizations around town.

A few of the quotes: “Why be on an advisory council for people who don’t want advice?” Being on council “can be a frustrating experience.”“I was frustrated by the politics (and pace) of getting things done.”“It is the bureaucrats who run the show, (and) pay lip service to public input.”“I felt we were viewed as a ‘pain in the ass’” by the Department of Education and school administration.”“Councils are essentially powerless advocates.”

Several ex-council members remembered being consulted by principals on minor topics, such as overnight field trips or dates for PD days, but finding out only after the fact that important decisions had been made about class sizes or school programs.

Another remembered an episode (which I also recall), where senior officials in the public school branch announced they were working on major new educational initiatives. We tried to meet with them to give our input and share some of our ideas. It took months to get on their calendar, and when we met they refused to discuss anything substantive or even tell us anything specific they were working on.

One ex-councillor described the officials’ talk as disdainful and vacant, “even by YTG standards.” Later on, they announced a big new strategy, which as far as we could tell made zero difference in our children’s classrooms.

Another recalled the absurdity of the department insisting on vetting school council spending on projects over $500, even if the council raised the money. Say you are elected to a school council and raise $500 at a barbecue and car wash. You have to go ask for permission to spend the money on books for the library or new tetherball poles.

Even seemingly “no brainer” ideas can go nowhere slowly. Take the idea of parents getting a tax deduction for donating money to a school for books or equipment. Right now, you can only get a tax receipt if your money goes into the YTG pot for general use, with no guarantees it will end up back at your child’s school.

You can make tax-deductible donations to literally hundreds of groups in the Yukon, but not your child’s school. We also have the example of the hospital foundation, which has raised piles of money for the health system. I recall raising this idea more than five years ago, and now current school councillors are still complaining about it.

It is hard to come up with a good reason why this idea remains stuck somewhere in the Department of Education.

Despite all these frustrations, the overwhelming majority of ex-councillors recommended getting involved. One, most of whose comments cannot be published in a family newspaper, ended his email by saying “having said all this, I think it is any parent’s moral duty to get involved.”

I asked my Grade 8 daughter if she thought I had a duty to get involved. “Yes,” she replied firmly. If people don’t get involved, then democracy doesn’t work. And Yukon schools are among our most important community institutions.

I agree. I remember one time we did make a difference. My fellow council members and I heard from a lot of parents worried about reading support at the school. We wanted to compare learning assistant staffing at our school versus other schools. When the Department of Education wouldn’t give us the data, we used access-to-information requests to prove that our school was under-staffed in this area. And we lobbied successfully over a number of years to get more learning assistants at the school, something that made a real difference to children I actually know.

So, despite the frustrations, I’m going to email the principal and volunteer. I hope you will too.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris in the State Dinning Room of the White House on Jan. 21, in Washington, D.C. The administration announced plans Jan. 20 for a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after the Trump administration issued leases in a part of the refuge considered sacred by the Gwich’in. (Alex Brandon/AP)
U.S. President Joe Biden halts oil and gas lease sales in ANWR

“Its great to have an ally in the White House”

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Jan. 22, 2021

Children’s performer Claire Ness poses for a photo for the upcoming annual Pivot Festival. “Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. (Photo courtesy Erik Pinkerton Photography)
Pivot Festival provides ‘delight and light’ to a pandemic January

The festival runs Jan. 20 to 30 with virtual and physically distant events

The Boulevard of Hope was launched by the Yukon T1D Support Network and will be lit up throughout January. It is aimed at raising awareness about Yukoners living with Type 1 diabetes. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Boulevard of Hope sheds light on Type 1 diabetes

Organizers hope to make it an annual event

City of Whitehorse city council meeting in Whitehorse on Oct. 5, 2020. An updated council procedures bylaw was proposed at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting that would see a few changes to council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse procedures bylaw comes forward

New measures proposed for how council could deal with emergencies

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

Most Read