It is a tragedy that the issue that takes all of the energy and attention related to public education is how to settle an industrial age style collective bargaining dispute in a context where nobody actually in the room is going to suffer any serious consequence from failure to get an agreement in a timely fashion. It does not work for pretty obvious reasons.
There are no actual owners who will lose their businesses or workers who will lose their jobs if an agreement does not get done. The government representatives have job security and the union reps have guaranteed jobs to go back to. Nobody ‘in the room’ feels any direct pain from failure. They can stick to the narrow selfish principles they have been mandated to protect while the broader value of public education in our society is diminished.
The real pain is the waste of the collective investment that we are all making in the next generation. The most focused and acute pain is the one felt by the parent whose child is having their chances of succeeding in life reduced by not getting the best education possible with the resources available now.
The haemorrhage of children to the private school system will compound the problem in the long term. The process of collective bargaining is the only (and dubious) value being served. Its dysfunction is undermining the long term viability of the public education system and ultimately, of our democratic, multicultural society that relies on the integrative and egalitarian effect of public education to regenerate itself.
Like money, energy and public attention are limited resources. If it is all spent in and around a ritualized process for determining how many people are going to be on the job site, the maximum amount of responsibility they have to have, and how much they get paid, then there is less to spend on the improving quality of the tools they use, the adequacy of the space they occupy and the value of the outputs they produce.
Decisions of successive governments to continue to increase the share of public revenue that goes to fund health care over education (and every other ministry such as parks and environment) are ultimately based on values, not efficiency. They have been wrong choices that have increased the risks to our society in the future.
We have to find a better way to determine the priorities for spending the intergenerational trust called public education. And, when we all feel better about the way that the money is being spent, we need to increase the public education budget. Unlike what the the sappy Telus ads say, the future is not friendly for our children. There needs to be a fundamental reconciliation and change in the process...now!
Guy Heywood is a former Chair of the North Vancouver School Board. Art Charbonneau is a former NDP Minister of Education who once fired him and replaced the Board of SD 44 with a Public Trustee. They have since reconciled.