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Burnaby Parents’ Voice releases platform, garners criticism

Burnaby Parents’ Voice, which is running five candidates for school trustee in November’s civic election, has released its platform focused on “educational excellence,” “environment of respect” and “elimination of excess spending.”

The party, created out of a group that formed last spring to oppose Burnaby school district’s anti-homophobia policy, posted its platform on its website, www.burnabyparentsvoice.ca.

But some of the criticisms, listed in a section entitled “Did you know?” left Burnaby school board chair Larry Hayes of the Burnaby Citizens’ Association scratching his head.

Parents’ Voice notes that “in two years the school board paid out $111,783 to one pizza supplier.”

Hayes said the vast majority of that money was through a contract to Panago, which supplies one of the menu offerings for its school meals program, a subsidized program for eligible students.

Some of the money comes from the provincial government specifically for that type of program and Panago offers a special menu that meets guidelines for healthy eating.

“The reality is not all kids are coming to school well fed,” he said.

Parents’ Voice says, “two Burnaby schools sit empty while $1 million was spent renting space.”

District staff could only think of three buildings that are not housing regular classrooms, Hayes said. One, the Riverside elementary site, was leased out to Kenneth Gordon School, an independent school for students with learning disabilities, until last year.

When its lease ran out, the district asked it to vacate the property because it was in too poor a condition to fix up. “We didn’t feel it was safe without significant capital investment,” said Hayes, who noted the property is owned by Burnaby city hall. It is currently being used for storage but will eventually be returned to the city, which plans to turn it into parkland.

A second building, Riverway West, is on the south slope across from the former New Haven site. That is being used for adult and continuing education programs, two daycares and storage. An English language program for grades 6 and 7 will be moving there next month.

And the third site, near Hastings Street and Duthie Avenue, is currently home to a daycare and more district storage.

The district does lease space, Hayes said, on Lougheed Highway near Willingdon Avenue, for an adult and continuing education program. The 11 classrooms it needs is more than it has available at its own buildings and it has easy access to transit, which the district sites don’t.

It also has two portables on city property at the Edmonds Resource Centre, another neighbourhood that has a great need for the types of programming it has there.

“It’s unfortunate that certainly, what has been shown is a one-issue group is now grasping for headlines to make it seem like they are mainstream,” said Hayes.

The school board is also criticized by Parents’ Voice with the statement, “school districts surrounding Burnaby all offer more program choice.”

Hayes noted Burnaby’s program offerings include hairdressing and culinary training programs, a hockey academy, trades, film and media, among others.

In 2002, when he was first elected, Hayes recalled, the district had an International Baccalaureate (IB) program but it “was not sustainable for a variety of reasons, mostly financial.” Many participants weren’t completing the program, and the board of the day decided to drop the program in favour of the Advanced Placement (AP) program.

Burnaby now has the largest AP program in the province, he said. But as a result of feedback from the public, it also decided last spring to revisit the IB program, with the board asking staff to look into the feasibility of reintroducing it to the district.

As for Parents’ Voice’s assertion that “attracting fee-paying offshore students is prioritized over attracting tax-paying Burnaby families,” Hayes confirmed that the district’s international education program, competes with just about every other district in the region to attract students here.

But the costs of recruiting those students is recovered from the $10,000 to $12,000 in fees they each pay, an amount that totals several millions of dollars in profit annually—money that helps fund the district’s other programs, Hayes stressed.

While the NewsLeader was told Heather Leung, president of Burnaby Parents’ Voice and a non-candidate, is the party’s official spokeswoman, she was unavailable.

Candidate Charter Lau confirmed the party wants to see the IB program reinstated and questioned why the district found it unsustainable when other districts continue to offer it.

As for the pizza issue, Lau said the party doesn’t have a problem with the contract.

“The question parents might have is why can’t we have five suppliers to deliver the same thing? If it is cheaper or more nutritious or whatever it is. We would like to ask questions.”

Lau referred additional questions to fellow candidate Helen Ward, who did not respond before the NewsLeader’s press time.

As for Hayes, “It’s very difficult for anybody to come up with criticism of how the district has operated. We’re not closing schools, we’re not losing students for the most part, our numbers remain very stable, we’re coming up with new programs, the ministry, even though we’re on different political wavelengths, they’re still giving us money for new facilities.”

Parents’ Voice’s criticisms during an election campaign, he said, are an indication “the silly season has begun.”

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

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