New spirit of cautious optimism in SD40 – VOICE salutes P4PE and new Superintendent

The emergence of a new parents group, New Westminster Parents for Public Education (P4PE), can only be seen as positive and helpful in the effort to improve education in New Westminster and, indeed, in the entire province. Parental involvement in education should always be welcome in this regard.

VOICE New Westminster has been encouraged to see recent opinions expressed by parents involved with P4PE in so far as VOICE has been making almost the same – if not the same – points about the New Westminster school district (SD40) since our inception seven years ago in January 2007.

The widespread dysfunction that has plagued the administration and governance of SD40 for so many long years is something clearly evident to even the most casual of observers. We therefore want to encourage the members of P4PE to keep up their vocal pursuit of change in SD40.

There is, however, one aspect of P4PE that does concern us and that is the close relationship that several of its self-declared founding members have – or have had in the recent past – with the very organization that has supported and enabled the aforementioned dysfunction to take place in SD40.

We certainly hope the formation of P4PE is not merely an effort to rebrand previous political efforts and special interest agendas with the intention to distance the new group from the debacles of the past – debacles which have put the New Westminster school district into such a terrible financial situation.

Nevertheless, we are sincerely hopeful that P4PE represents the same desire for positive change that VOICE has been articulating for almost a decade now (and which some of our members have been articulating from long before that).

We are also encouraged by the commitment of SD40’s newly-appointed superintendent whose actions have recently put the school district on the path toward sustainable, sound decision-making and management practices.

It all adds up to a new spirit of optimism – cautious optimism, but optimism nonetheless – that things may finally be falling into place in SD40 and that the kind of true change VOICE has been advocating for over the past several years may now be within sight.

Overcrowding concerns resurface at Herbert Spencer

A proposal that would increase the student population at overcrowded Herbert Spencer has prompted some frustrated Spencer parents to start an online petition.

The proposal would see a second Early French Immersion kindergarten class added this September with 19 of its 22 students coming from outside the Herbert Spencer catchment area.

As the petition preamble states, “the current students of Herbert Spencer Elementary School already have limited and inadequate access to the resources and educational experiences expected from a neighbourhood community school.”

Moreover, three modular classrooms have recently been added to the site which has further reduced the play area available for students.

The sponsors of the petition hope to provide the school district and the board “with a mandate to avoid further over-populating” of Herbert Spencer and to “use the existing facility resources for the benefit of the community and the majority of our students.”

Facility issues are certainly not new to the New Westminster school district, and this one is no exception.

For those who are interested in this issue, the text of the petition is posted below:

Stop Over-Populating Herbert Spencer Elementary School

The Petition

Please note that this petition is not intended to be a condemnation of our school district’s Program of Choice tracts, but rather the issue of unnecessarily over-populating Herbert Spencer Elementary School.

Premise Behind Petition

This petition is to provide our School District and Board of Trustees with a mandate to avoid further over-populating Herbert Spencer Elementary School and use the existing facility resources for the benefit of the community and the majority of our students.

The New Westminster School District Board of Trustees is considering a proposal to add an additional full class of students to Herbert Spencer Elementary School in September of 2011. This additional “One-Time” 2nd Early French Immersion Kindergarten Class of 22 would consist of 19 students from outside the normal Herbert Spencer Elementary School neighbourhood catchment. Adding 19 more students, who could be supported by the community schools in the neighbourhoods where they live, will adversely affect access and availability to our community school’s facilities and resources for its existing students and our children.

The current students of Herbert Spencer Elementary School already have limited and inadequate access to the resources and educational experiences expected from a neighbourhood community school, as well as those that are actually mandated by the Ministry of Education. Adding more students to the Herbert Spencer Elementary School site unnecessarily, which already has not been constructed or intended to hold even the current population it has (i.e. the modular buildings taking up a large portion of the play area), will further reduce our children’s access to the limited resources and learning opportunities.

By signing this petition, I attest that;

I do not support the proposal to further increase the student population at Herbert Spencer Elementary School, due to the establishment of a 2nd Early French Immersion Kindergarten Class from which the majority of students reside outside the normal Herbert Spencer Elementary School neighbourhood catchment. I request that Herbert Spencer Elementary School’s facilities and resources be used to provide the needed and necessary educational and community services that our families require, such as; more uncongested playground space, additional gymnasium and physical recreation space and time, increased computer lab access and availability, restoration of onsite before and after school child care, and a school district that focuses on the needs and best interests of ALL of its students.

Incinerator issue flares up again in Sapperton

Late last week, word leaked out about a new proposal for a waste-to-energy incinerator in Sapperton — the third or fourth proposal in recent memory (we’ve kind of lost track — this incinerator thing is kind of like an undead zombie that can’t be killed).

Needless to say, the residents of Sapperton and elsewhere in the city are expressing renewed concern and there are more questions than answers at this point.

You can read about the proposal here, and we understand city council is receiving the proposal at a meeting today.

Companies are certainly well within their right to submit proposals to the city. However, more than one person has pointed out that the wording of the proponent’s cover letter to the city suggests that the city may have solicited the proposal in some way.

Once again, consistent with the position we’ve taken in previous postings on this topic, the Mayor needs to come clean on his waste-to-energy dreams for the city.

Was this proposal sought out by the city? How does all of this factor into the UBE?

And given the fact that extensive consultations need to take place for any waste-to-energy proposal, what impact does this proposal have on the tight timelines connected to the federal government funding for the UBE?

The questions are certainly many but the answers are few and this has lead to an intense level of distrust around the whole issue. So stay tuned for more as this seemingly unending incinerator saga continues to unfold.

When it rains, it pours — Election Fatigue 2011?

We’re not the first to make note of the “perfect storm” conditions for election fatigue that have emerged in 2011.

We’re barely half way through May and we’ve already had two provincial party leadership races, a federal election, and a provincial by-election in Vancouver-Point Grey.

In the Fall we’ve got a civic election (Voice’s sphere of interest) and most likely a provincial election on top of it.

Sandwiched in between, of course, is the HST referendum in June — which means hardcore political junkies will be getting more than their fill of excitement this year.

But what impact will this tsunami of election activity have on the average voter? That’s the question many are asking.

Will voter fatigue set in and cause an unprecedented lack of interest in this year’s civic election?

Keep in mind that voter apathy (in general) is already at an all-time high, and civic elections typically post the lowest voter turnout rate.

As an example: During the last civic election, most of those elected in New Westminster were elected with less than 10 percent of the eligible vote (a sad commentary in and of itself).

And if voter fatigue sets in it could conceivably lead to candidates being elected with as little as 4 or 5 percent of the eligible vote.

Voice will certainly be doing its part to shake things up and engage voters over the coming months.

And, just as we did in the last election, Voice will be working to support community-based candidates capable of putting the interests of the community above all other interests.

The District Labour Council will, in all probability, also gear up to support their special interest slate-that-claims-not-to-be-a-slate slate of candidates, just as they’ve done practically from the beginning of time.

In fact, if the past is a guide to the present, the District Labour Council is probably screening their “labour friendly” candidates for endorsement right about now.

Insight into the District Labour Council’s screening process can be gleaned from a July 15, 2008 article posted on CUPE BC’s website.

Under the headline, “Political action committee gears up for fall elections” (with the sub-headline, “Holding candidates accountable”), the article states: “Each candidate in the local elections is asked to complete a profile of his or her position on P3s, contracting out, pay equity, and other important issues.”

Digressing for just a moment, it’s important to note that Voice has absolutely no issue with CUPE, or any other union, defining and articulating the concerns and interests of its members.

CUPE staff contribute directly to the success of our community. They deserve to have a voice, to have their concerns listened to, and to have their interests accounted for in the consensus building and decision making processes.

In fact, many will no doubt recall that it was Voice that stood up for the school district’s CUPE staff who had been exposed to asbestos when the district attempted to sweep the incident under the carpet a couple of years ago.

Perhaps the District Labour Council should ask their New Westminster school trustees about this sorry episode when they re-screen them as candidates for endorsement this year.

But getting back to the main thread of this posting: From the July 15, 2008 article noted above, it’s quite clear what happens to District Labour Council candidates who do not live up to the DLC’s special interest expectations.

As the July 15, 2008 article states: “Four elections ago, [Marcel] Marsolais stood up at a district council meeting and shot down endorsements of four incumbent school trustees who, during the previous term, had done nothing to stop services and jobs from being contracted out.”

In our view, not only is the District Labour Council’s approach to selecting and endorsing candidates too narrowly focused on a single special interest agenda, it also seems coercive and punitive in nature. Some might even say there is an element of bullying involved.

There is certainly a lot of money involved: District Labour Council endorsement typically leads to thousands of dollars in campaign funding as well as other campaign support such as a phone bank. All of these benefits are quite clearly lost to the District Labour Council’s candidates if they don’t toe the special interest line as noted above.

Voice takes a very different approach to its candidates: Whereas the District Labour Council seeks to promote a single special interest to the exclusion of all other interests and considerations, Voice seeks to achieve balance and consensus (and without coercion or bullying).

Voice looks for, and endorses, candidates who can be counted on to approach all issues with an open mind and place the community’s collective interest above any and all special interests and agendas. Put another way: Voice values sincerity over ideology.

But getting back to where we started; the question of election fatigue remains. Will it be a factor in this year’s civic elections? Will the District Labour Council candidates once again ride into office on a wave of voter apathy as they’ve done for so long now?

Let us know what you think.

Voice congratulates all Federal candidates

Our congratulations to Peter Julian, Fin Donnelly and all of the other candidates who stood for election to Parliament for New Westminster.

Standing for election and putting oneself through the rigours of an election campaign is not for the faint of heart. And everyone who does stand deserves to be publicly recognized and commended.

We also want to acknowledge the dedicated volunteers who helped these candidates through the election process. Without the efforts of these volunteers, campaigns would not be possible.

Again, we commend all of the candidates and their supporters for the commitment they’ve shown to the democratic process and to the service of our community.

Voice congratulates Watt on Brophy trophy

Congratulations to New Westminster school trustee Lori Watt on winning COPE 378’s first annual Ardell Brophy Award.

The Award was initiated this year to recognize members of the COPE 378 union who have “shown exemplary service to their union and their community.”

The award honours Ardell Brophy, a long time COPE 378 union rep, member, activist, and advocate who is also an accomplished stand-up comedian and founder of Laff Riot Girls.

Fittingly, Watt herself is involved in the performing arts as an actress, director and producer.

The photo above shows Watt and Brophy alongside COPE 378 Vice President David Black at the award ceremony.

Black, as many know, is also a long time New Westminster resident and son of New Westminster MLA, and current opposition leader, Dawn Black.

Voice congratulates Ms. Brophy on the creation of this award and Ms. Watt as the first-time recipient.

Passing waste reduction savings on to New Westminster taxpayers

We were duly impressed by recent waste reduction news out of Port Coquitlam that John Ashdown drew our attention to.

It seems that a year after introducing “two leading-edge waste-reduction programs,” Port Coquitlam residents are now sending 26% less garbage to the landfill and they’ve saved $165,000 in the process.

Port Coquitlam’s new pickup schedule has also saved “9,600 litres of diesel fuel” and prevented “about 98 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases” from being emitted into the atmosphere.

Even better, Port Coquitlam residents are now looking forward to another zero increase in garbage rates for 2011.

Okay, pinch me. Where can the envious masses here in the Royal City sign up for that waste reduction program instead of the one where we get dinged with yet another increase in our solid waste fees this year?

Yes, it’s true that New Westminster’s waste output has been reduced by 48% (from 367 tonnes to just 188 tonnes) owing to the city’s new garbage scheme — as reported in the December 22, 2010 Newsleader. That part’s not so bad and we are impressed with the reduction of waste.

But what do the overtaxed citizens of New West get for all the hours they’re spending sorting their garbage? Surely we should be seeing some sort of savings or benefits being passed on to New Westminster taxpayers similar to the ones seen in nearby Port Coquitlam?

Alas, no… What we’re apparently getting is an $11 increase in our solid waste fees this year.

Moreover, according to a December 8, 2010 article in the Record, the chair of the city’s environmental committee (Councillor Cote) says the city’s new ‘clean green’ waste pick up service (intended to keep yard waste from landfills), and the addition of a new vehicle to the city’s fleet, have increased emissions by 57 tons.

(NOTE: see above where it states that Port Coquitlam’s new pickup schedule saved “9,600 litres of diesel fuel” and prevented “about 98 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases” from being emitted into the atmosphere.)

So: No apparent decrease in fuel consumption or greenhouse gas emissions, and no apparent decrease in labour costs in New Westminster! What gives?

Again, we are impressed with the reduction of waste in New Westminster, but we would also like to see some savings passed on to the city’s taxpayers.

About half of Port Coquitlam’s reported $165,000 in savings in 2010 reportedly came from reduced labour, equipment and fuel costs, while $82,000 came from averted landfill disposal fees.

Considering Port Coquitlam’s inspiring results, and the savings they’ve passed on to taxpayers, we’re obviously doing something wrong here in New Westminster.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore explains his city’s impressive results as follows: “We were able to achieve these successes because our residents got on board with the programs…. We’re working together to save money and at the same time provide a positive environmental impact.”

Well, New Westminster residents certainly appear to be on board with waste reduction.

(NOTE: See above where it states “New Westminster’s waste output has been reduced by 48% (from 367 tonnes to just 188 tonnes) because of the new garbage scheme….”)

So now, in addition to a reduction in waste, what New Westminster taxpayers want to see are some money savings and the positive environmental impact.

Port Coquitlam, and their Mayor Greg Moore, seem to have to figured out how to make waste reduction work and pass savings on to taxpayers. Why can’t New Westminster?

Translink Goes Back to the Drawing Board – With the Community

We all remember last November and December when Translink consulted with the City and soon recognized residents’ concerns with the design options that were presented and potential impacts on the local neighbourhood.
Well, they heard the very vocal opposition from the community and are now coming back to find out from us what our concerns are, what our transportation issues are, and what we can suggest as possible solutions.
Apparently over the next 3 months, starting next Saturday, they want to engage in this process with New Westminster residents. The meetings will be in three phases. All meetings will be at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall, 318 Keary Street, New Westminster.

Phase 1: Community Concerns and Ideas Workshops

Share your transportation concerns: Saturday, March 12, 2011 – 9:30 a.m. to noon

Share your ideas on the solutions: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 – 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Phase 2: Initial and Refined Concepts

Discuss initial concepts based on Phase 1: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 – 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Discuss the refined concepts: Saturday, April 30, 2011 – 9:30 a.m. to noon

Phase 3: Recommended Solution Strategy

Identify the recommended solution and community mitigation strategy

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 – 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.