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Pride Advisory Committee seeks renewed funding

Will the Vancouver School Board come through?

SEEKING FUNDING: James Chamberlain (left) and Roz Shakespeare are asking the newly elected NPA-dominated Vancouver School Board to continue funding the Pride Advisory Committee. Credit: Matt Mills photo

The Vancouver School Board Pride Advisory Committee made its first funding renewal request before the newly elected NPA-dominated Vancouver School Board (VSB), Mar 8.

Advisory committee members James Chamberlain and Roz Shakespeare asked the VSB to renew the Pride Advisory Committee’s funding for the 2006-2007 school year and to approve additional money to upgrade a part-time anti-homophobia and diversity consultant position to a full-time job.

In all of BC, only the VSB and the Victoria District School Board have anti-homophobia policies that commit resources specifically to combat homophobia in schools.

“We’re not asking for a specific allotment because you have a lot of demands placed upon you,” Chamberlain told the VSB. “But I can tell you, we do need more staff time.”

Last year, a COPE-dominated VSB approved the part-time position, and there are now two people who share it.

But Chamberlain says since 2002, when the committee was established, awareness among Vancouver’s teachers and administrators has grown, and with it demands on committee resources.

“Now that the district is aware that [the committee is] there, the requests for books, for titles, for workshops, for lesson plans and all sorts of things are increasing exponentially,” Shakespeare told Xtra West. “[The anti-homophobia and diversity consultants] are giving a lot of extra time to the district to respond to the requests from staff.”

One of only two remaining COPE VSB trustees, Allan Wong, praised the work of the committee and those who have donated the many hours of volunteer time that have so far made it a success.

“My concern is that we might be taking advantage of this anti-homophobia consultant,” he said. “It almost feels like it should be a full-time position. The question is, can the district really maintain, let alone build upon, the accomplishments of the committee without all the volunteer time and extra work?”

Chamberlain and Shakespeare say they’re optimistic that the VSB will renew their funding and approve the extra staffing money they need because their work is paying off. They say the committee has been so successful, so far, that other committees are turning to them for advice and support. Chamberlain says they also have the growing support of school administrators.

“There’s a lot of resources going in now that weren’t there before,” he says. “Librarians are getting books for classrooms and library collections. There are a lot of exciting changes we see happening in the VSB we don’t see in other districts. Support from senior management and administration, support from the superintendent, all these people in top leadership roles. Their support for what we’re doing has a big trickle-down effect.”

But there are a couple of wrenches that could impact the committee’s plans. The first is money:

“At present, based on known and anticipated changes to funding and prospects, an operating budget shortfall of $3.22-million is projected,” VSB trustee Clarence Hansen said in opening the meeting. “This board has no desire to cut program services or resources. It’s our fervent hope that at the very least, we’ll be able to maintain funding at last year’s level. With your input, we can look at what is in the best interests of students.”

The provincial government has promised increased funding for education, but it’s not clear yet if any of that money will make it to the Pride Advisory Committee.

Chamberlain says there are a couple more budget meetings to work through as well as confirmation of funding levels for education from the Ministry of Education. He says he expects a final decision on Apr 10.

Another factor that could impact the committee’s plan is the potential change in the structure of the VSB itself. On Oct 22, 2005 BC deputy education minister Emery Dosdall told a BC School Trustee Association conference that the provincial government would be “repurposing” school boards across BC in the spring of 2006. He spoke about “an expanded mandate” for school boards.

When asked later what Dosdall meant by repurposing, education minister Shirley Bond said, “That debate is ongoing. We are waiting for information to be gathered.”

Former VSB trustee Jane Bouey told Xtra West in December 2005 that an expanded mandate for school boards could mean BC school boards’ “ability to deal with issues such as queer student policy is actually diminished.”

Bouey warned that if trustee power is diluted or devolved because they were directed to other projects by the province, more power would be handed to individual schools, and decisions that affect queer students could end up being left to “the whims of cliques of parents.”

Chamberlain says the best way to support the Pride Advisory Committee and its funding efforts is for queer community members to write to the school board to say how pleased they are with the work the VSB has started.

“We can’t underestimate the importance of the queer community in voicing their concerns,” says Chamberlain. “Committees like ours are unique entities in the province and the community has to speak for these issues as well.

“Queer youth are our future,” he continues. “Without them, we have no community, so it’s really important that members of the queer community act.”