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Opposing Privatization Is Not a One Shot Activity

by Lynette Harper, Task Force on Privatization

Several years ago my daughter brought home a flyer advertising a contest and discounts at a hair salon in a neighbouring community. That day launched my campaign against advertising that led me through lobbying the school board, the union and ultimately to my participation on the Task Force on Privatization. It has been a difficult process trying to balance my role as a parent with the professionalism that my status as a teacher demanded.

When that flyer came home, I was stunned, angry, disgusted, but not immobile. I tried to call the administrator, but was unable to reach her and because my anger needed an outlet I called the superintendent. By this time I had already become vocal in the fight against the Liberal cut backs and the board's unwillingness to stand up to them. The superintendent knew nothing about the advertising, but from my description indicated that he would not have approved of it and would be contacting the principal of the middle school.

I soon discovered, through my journeys as a teacher on call, that all four of the middle and secondary schools at the south end of our district had distributed the material. After speaking to the principal and hearing her explanation as to why this was allowed and the lack of direction from the district, I formulated a plan. I would submit a series of papers on commercialism to the board. The first one would be an introductory paper and then the ones to follow would focus on specifics.

I attended my first board meeting ever. WOW! I saw the political process, or chaos, that has since brought at least three outside advisors to help our school board sort out its processes. When it came time to present my information, I was astounded to learn several things:

  • The board's policy committee was one trustee who consulted with "me, myself, and I."
  • The board did not know that there were vending machines in our district elementary schools.
  • Vending machines were put into the high school to keep kids on campus instead of going downtown to buy their junk fix.

I left with a request that they develop a policy on commercialism that protected our students. I also left despairing that they would ever be able to accomplish that. Earlier in the year, I had become a member of our local teacher's union executive as the teacher on call rep. I brought my concerns on the condition of the policy committee to them as well as the issue of commercialism. I distributed my paper. There was much confusion, as the executive did not seem to know any more then the board at this point. I also distributed the paper to the parent group, Enough Is Enough, that I had helped form; this was as close to a district PAC as we could get. Nobody was even close to being aware of the concerns or the ramifications of commercialism or the consequences of no policy.

It is now three years since I distributed that first paper. We have a new superintendent. We not only have a policy committee, but also a new policy on commercialism and revenue generation. I am not happy with the policy; however, I believe it is a start.

The good news, from my experience, is that it is possible for any one of us to have an impact on policies of our districts and schools. The bad news is that forces pushing privatization are pervasive and powerful.

Despite a policy on advertising, our district is going full steam ahead with other commercialism schemes that not even I dreamed of when writing my initial paper. The lesson is that opposing privatization and supporting public schools is not a one-shot activity. It requires ongoing vigilance and commitment.

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