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Bird re-elected as chair of parent advisory council

Apr 26 2012

John Bird, who helped convince the B.C. government to eliminate class limits on special needs students, has survived a challenge to his leadership of the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils.

Bird was re-elected chairman Tuesday night along with four other incumbents. Wendy Joyce will take over as vice-chairwoman after serving as secretary last year.

Four new directors also were elected. A slate of candidates seeking to unseat the executive failed to win a seat.

“That is a message and it’s fairly clear we’re on the right track,” Bird said in an interview Wednesday.

The challenge to the executive followed a joint letter this year that the confederation and the Greater Victoria school board sent to the B.C. government, urging an end to legal limits on the number of special-needs students in classrooms. The letter argued that the limits of three to a class discriminated against students with special needs.

The government agreed with the confederation and got rid of the limits in Bill 22, which also forced an end to teachers' job action.

The move drew heavy criticism from some parents and the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association, who argued that removing the limits will lead to the clustering of special needs students and worsen learning conditions for everyone. Opponents also accused the confederation of acting unilaterally without canvassing the views of all parents.

Rob Paynter, who ran unsuccessfully against Bird, called for greater accountability. He said the VCPAC executive had abused the democratic process by signing the joint letter on behalf of Greater Victoria parents without first consulting them.

“Beyond this, the letter's request to repeal class composition without offering any suggestion of how classes might be organized to meet the needs of all students demonstrated a simplistic view of a complex matter,” Paynter said in recent letter to the Times Colonist.

Bird said the election results show support for the confederation’s positions, but acknowledged that there is a lot of work still to do.

“Parents have a huge diversity of views and we’re constantly challenged to bring those as close to consensus as we can, so we can represent that voice,” he said.

The board will meet in May to set its priorities for the year. But Bird said a key goal will be to further develop the concept of a school-based classroom support fund that could be used to make sure that all students get the help they need.

“We’ve got to find a way to build a funding model around that and start advocating for the funds we need for every child to be successful in school,” Bird said.

“We’ve got an election coming up. There’s going to be a lot of discussion about the education system, and I want to see us ready to be involved in that discussion from the point of view of getting resources for kids.”

Bird stressed that the confederation will steer clear of backing one party, and focus on advocating for students, as it has been doing during the ongoing dispute between government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

“We need to continue telling the government and the BCTF that they’ve got to find a different way to do business,” he said. “There’s simply too much collateral damage coming out of the current system. And, where it affects kids, we’ll continue to talk about that at every opportunity.”

lkines@timescolonist.com