NPA, Vision battle over corporate donations to public schools, education policies

Even as Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was promising again that the city would double the money spent on breakfast programs in the Vancouver school district, Vision and the NPA were battling over the merits of corporate donations to public schools 

Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and school board chairperson Patti Bacchus | Photo Dan Toulgoet

Even as Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was promising again that the city would double the money spent on breakfast programs in the Vancouver school district, Vision and the NPA were battling over the merits of corporate donations to public schools.

Robertson used a press conference this week to re-announce a promise to spend $400,000 a year on breakfast programs at schools to reach 1,300 children a school day. It was a promise first made by Robertson September 18 in a move that angered his NPA rival Kirk LaPointe, who argued the proposal was his idea.

Robertson also said a Vision board would commit to building childcare centres in every school undergoing a seismic retrofit, and that Vision trustees would work to ensure Vancouver could boast the greenest school district in North America.

“This team has an enormous wealth of experience in sharp contrast to the NPA team,” Roberston said.

The Vision press conference came in the wake of an attack Friday by NPA mayoral candidate LaPointe on Vision Vancouver school board chairperson Patti Bacchus for rejecting $475,000 from Chevron Canada in March for school projects and new equipment.

LaPointe said an NPA school board wouldn’t be bound by what he called ideology that shortchanged children.

Bacchus said corporate money needs to be kept away from class projects.

She said September 27 Vancouver School Board superintendent Steve Cardwell met with Chevron and rejected a partnership between the district and the oil company. That partnership proposed signs at Chevron pumps advertising that for every 30 litres of gas purchased, $2 would go towards projects and equipment in Vancouver classrooms.

“That is in direct conflict with our goal of being the greenest school district and becoming carbon neutral,” Bacchus said. “That’s not a great fit for a district that’s trying to reduce its carbon footprint, reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and promote active transportation.”

Bacchus said the decision was based on policy that’s been in place for at least 10 years, including when the NPA led the school board.

“If Chevron had said we will write you a cheque to donate to your district, no strings attached, no requirements, this will not be associated with marketing gasoline sales, it will be a gift to your district, it would have fit the criteria and we probably would have accepted it and applied it to some appropriate purpose,” she added.

The NPA announced Friday that it would:

  • keep schools open,
  • provide at least five more instruction days by reducing district closure days
  • minimize learning assessment wait times and support non-English speaking families, and
  • double the number of Mandarin bilingual schools from two to four and offer Mandarin courses at every high school, instead of less than 25% of high schools the NPA says offers Mandarin electives now.

LaPointe said the NPA would accomplish these goals by securing additional revenue through partnerships with childcare providers and by creating a policy to promote appropriate grant and sponsorship arrangements.

Bacchus said the Vision-dominated board hasn’t been talking about closing schools since 2010.  

“We made a commitment in 2011 that we would be keeping public schools open,” she said. “When we voted to do that, the NPA opposed that.”

Bacchus noted NPA trustee Fraser Ballantyne said this past April that with lower enrolment, the district could have closed two elementary and three secondary schools to address its budget shortfall for 2014-2015.

Robertson said the city isn’t stepping in where the province should be by providing money for breakfast programs. Investing money in the breakfast program is aligned with city council’s priority of addressing child poverty, according to Robertson.

Bacchus said she’s proud the Vision-dominated school board has:

  • fought to keep schools open,
  • secured hundreds of millions of dollars for seismic upgrades and new school construction, and
  • made schools safer and more inclusive for students of all backgrounds.

Twenty-nine contenders seek election for nine school board trustee positions. Candidates include six incumbents from Vision Vancouver and newcomer Joy Alexander, a retired teacher, parent and school psychologist who holds a doctorate in educational psychology. Allan Wong left the Coalition of Progressive Electors, or COPE, and joined Vision in 2013.
Five candidates, including Ballantyne, are running with the NPA. The party expelled Ken Denike and Sophia Woo in June. The pair is running with a new party called Vancouver First.

Vancouver Courier