Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Government playground funding system just plain weird

I just glanced at the government press release last month announcing funding for 66 school playground projects across the province. It seemed wrong that playground equipment is no longer considered something kids are entitled to. The government won't pay, so parents have to raise the money. That's easy in some schools, way harder in others.
Jason Harshenin, editor of the Grand Forks Gazette, paid more attention. It turned the grants covered about 10 per cent of the school playground requests. And they were awarded by lucky draw, not need.
Here's his excellent column.

Grant lottery irresponsible
By Jason Harshenin
Grand Forks Gazette
When the Hutton Elementary School Parent Advisory Council (PAC) initiated its fund raising efforts to replace the school’s old and dilapidated playground, nobody anticipated that the British Columbia Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC) would not support their fundraising efforts.
Hutton PAC members applied for grant funding through ActNow BC – a “partnership-based, cross-ministry health and wellness Initiative” that is supposed to “promote healthy living choices to improve the quality of life for all British Columbians”. BCCPAC administered the funding and selected a lottery in order to do so. According to BCCPAC communications and media coordinator, Gabrielle Moore, over 600 schools initially applied for the funding and between them they requested $11 million dollars in funding. Only 66 schools across the province, however, were distributed the $1 million allocated by the Ministry of Education.
Obviously there is a major need for better playground equipment across the entire province. Obviously not enough money has been set aside to address this concern.
But when asked why BCCPAC opted to pursue a lottery as opposed to looking at individual applications and assessing need, Moore stated that volunteers run BCCPAC and they simply do not have the human power needed to scrutinize individual applications. When I asked Moore if she was concerned that the ministry of education would allocate $1 million dollars to playground funding without instituting some funding formula or funding mechanism for how that money is distributed, especially in light of some of the major challenges facing forestry-based communities in the Interior, Moore was unresponsive. I asked Moore to contact BCCPAC president Kim Howland. I would like Howland to explain why BCCPAC utilized a lottery system and whether the decision to hold a lottery was politically motivated. I would also like to know why the ministry of education would agree to that criteria for funding when it would want its $1 million spent on the schools in most need of support.
According to Ministry of Education spokesperson Lara Perzoff, the ministry was not aware that BCCPAC opted to use a lottery; however, Perzoff is identified as the contact person on the ministry’s press release.  I would also like to know why the majority of the schools on the list are in Liberal ridings and in the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island. And why did only one school in the entire Kootenays (both east and west) get funding?
So far the Hutton PAC has raised $37,000 in just over one year. Pretty impressive to say the least. Hutton PAC is now determined to raise the rest (over $60,000 ) by summer so kids going to school this fall will have a new playground to enjoy – a playground that is safe, fun and helps to get them active. In the mean time, I will wait to hear from the ministry and from BCCPAC. Maybe they can explain to me why the children and families at Hutton Elementary school have not been supported.


Anonymous said...

It gets even more bizarre, Paul. If a school's PAC does not choose to pay the $60 annual membership fee to become a BCCPAC member (parents at both my child's elementary and secondary schools have never to this point seen it being worth baking and selling that many cupcakes), the school is not even eligible to get the playground loans. Less than half the public schools in BC are represented through PAC memberships in BCCPAC and they are therefore all out of luck if they want to get a piece of this provincial program!

It's high time someone shone a spotlight at the total weirdness that is BCCPAC -- essentially a Ministry funded outgrowth that positions itself as "the provincial voice of BC parents" while typically sounding a lot more like an echo chamber for the voice of the BC Education Minister.

Anonymous said...

My school is in the Premier's riding. We have two new playgrounds- primary and elementary — that parents just finished paying for. We applied for the funds anyway and BCCPAC granted us $10,000. Now we have to figure out what to spend it on.

Anonymous said...

I'd also question that volunteer-run organization excuse. The 2007 BCCPAC's proposed operating budget distributed to and approved by members at last May's AGM showed a budget of approximately $2.5 million/year (including items like $500,000 for a Crystal Meth project), the bulk of which comes directly from the MoE.

The budget (it was very short on details and few questions about it were permitted) includes over $200,000 for salaries, wages and benefits, and $240,000 for contractors and speakers fees. The travel budget alone is $169,000 with an additional $112,000 allocated for meals.

So I really don't buy the "we're just a bunch of volunteers" line. The education minister likes to talk about Accountability. Let's see some!

And for heaven's sakes, If this is a volunteer organization lacking the ability to prudently allocate playground grants, then why is the MoE channelling so much money to it every year?

Allan Smth said...

Well for the PAC's who got funds and have no idea on what to do with it, you can always refuse it and let the money go back into the pool. As apparently you are a well off PAC that would be an easy decision.

For those of you who question the running of BCCPAC they are having elections for all major positions this May. I hope to see your name on the ballet.

Jason Harshenin said...

That is very interesting indeed. The school in the Premier's riding - are you at liberty to state which school that is?

Dawn Steele said...

The story is going around the Vancouver PAC circles and my understanding is that the school in question is Queen Mary Elementary (you should check, though).

(Very nice bunch of parents. A couple years back they held a Yacht Club fundraiser with the Premier as the star guest and raised over $100,000 for their school - more than our PAC could hope to raise in 20 years!)

It's a real shame because inner city schools (e.g. Grandview, Nightingale) that don't have active PACs (parents too busy trying to put dinner on the table!) and whose children probably need the facilities the most are never going to get a piece of this pie.

And if the parents can't get a PAC working and raise the extra $60 membership fee, they have no chance of running in the BCCPAC elections to change anything either.

You really can't fault the parents who "win" here. All the schools are underfunded and if they can make up the shortfall, good for them. But a system that increasingly relies on this sort of parent fundraising and political "connections" is punishing the schools that can least afford it. The Provincial policies that encourage this really stink and are antithetical to the fundamental principles that underlie the Canadian vision of public education (i.e. creating the level playing field so that all children get an equal chance to succeed).

Anonymous said...

I think people need to consider a unified voice for the parent representation, it will have more effect in the end, instead of several little voices. If you don't agree with the way BCCPAC is run, we are a democracy and you are allowed to ask for accountability. With the playground grants, the requirement that you had to be a member of BCCPAC was placed by the Ministry , not BCCPAC. $60.00 for membership to BCCPAC is not alot of money for all of the benefits and resources that become available to your PAC/DPAC through them. As for the expenses to run the organization, you need to have a full time staff, and running it with volunteers does not make sense as you need to hire specific people with the right skill set, not paying them would contribute to a high turn over, which translates into lost time training new staff and lack of continuity. The other expenses should be self explanitory if you have ever attended any conferences, training seminars and sessions put on by the BCCPAC. Keynote speakers and presentors have fees, and to bring them to our parents have costs associated with them. Did everyone enjoy Barbara Coloroso in Victoria? I know I did, and was very appreciative of BCCPAC for paying to bring her to the conference to educate myself and others. I really think we need to get away from the pettiness and focus on our children, which is why we are here. It is not a perfect system, but then neither are we, but lets make the best of it.

Anonymous said...

This discussion led me to check out the BCCPAC website and the new release factsheet listing who received grants. I noted General Gordon in Van, which is just about ready, from what I understand, to be demolished and replaced for seismic safety reasons got about $19,500. I'd be surprised if they would install a playground in the middle of that mess, although they will certainly need one when the school is built. I think it's also walking distance from the Premier's Constituency office...

Dawn Steele said...

Oops - I got the QM fundraising urban legend way wrong, sorry. I'm told it was actually less than $20,000 and the Premier did not attend in the end. (That's still about 5 years of fundraising for my child's former school and more than parents at many others, like his current high school, have raised in the last couple of decades, at least.)

And yes, $60 may not seem like a lot of money but my new PAC has not actually raised any money in recent memory, so it's still $60 too much.

And in reality, it's the least of the barriers: 80% of the parents at my current and former school are ESL or new immigrants who don't really get the whole PAC concept to start with, far less how to use it effectively. It's challenging enough trying to get engagement re issues at the local school level. Most of our parents don't even know we have a DPAC, far less a BCCPAC (I've had to explain both acronyms to the most engaged who do come to our PAC meetings, and they represent about 1% of the total parent population.)

Not to mention that you have to jump through all sorts of hoops of drafting motions to very precise specifications by deadlines that are 4 - 5 months before the AGM and then travelling to attend the AGM itself. I tried it one year and it was a nightmare and then even when the motions were passed, nothing was ever done. You've got to ask yourself what's wrong when half the schools aren't participating.

In any case, it's a ludicrous system to fund school playgrounds, never mind all the rest.

Anonymous said...

My kids are long out of the school system but since the present premier rattles on and on about having fit children in schools, cut down on junk food and so on, I just have to wonder why parents are supposed to scrounge up money to keep the play areas safe for their children, as they burn up engery, get fitter and have fun?

As most things, this government want to control, they are heavy on committees and short on handing over cash eually to all schools to improve the excercise areas for the children. Same bunch who figure the families should find the money for school supplies. Talk the talk, walk the walk Premier. Many schools don't have the capacity to dig up money for play equipment when at the same time they are trying to manage a hot meal program for the kids who go to school hungry.

Anonymous said...

Call me cynical...

I wondering if anyone has mapped the 66 school playground projects across the province that were given $$ against which riding (BC Liberal or NDP) the recipient school was in?

Perhaps a few of you may remember the recent baby seat fiasco - Could this be history repeating itself?

Anonymous said...

It seems disgraceful that this province can't afford to fund safe, stimulating playgrounds for all schools that need them but can still afford to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into facilities to be used for a two-week event for elite athletes. If only climbing the monkey bars was an Olympic sport.

Anonymous said...

I have been able to Google time and time again who received the information of whome recieved Grants through BCCPAC. I am grateful that we have a group of commited Parents that Volunteer from All over BC (and have ONLY their travel and food reimbursed)to have an organization like this that is very much accountable and annually Audited. To all the negative commenters I did see BCCPAC requesting many volunteers for a variety of their boards. They also send your individual School info Monthly and your PAC & DPAC Chairs regular emails too. Reach out to your local sources that they are in contact with and get yoursleves informed. They also distribute information/resources to each School that should be kept in your School's Library. That is..... if a volunteer or School paid staff did not thow it out, which unfortunately is a typical occurance. On another note, to add to the many volunteer parent hours....maybe you could post info on a Parent Board at your School. We even post Teacher Federation newsletters. I think we should all support each others efforts.
J. King

My children's Elem. School is in need of it's 3 climbers. Try to keep you fingers crossed for us, and to not DISMANTLE the few resources we do have as Parents.
God Bless and I will hope that you can remember such action that can take "Christmas" out of Schools. Enjoy your Winter Holiday. Paid or unpaid.