Guru Gordo?

Provincial Liberal leader Gordon Campbell will be stepping out of the public spotlight tonight for a private event in support of Vancouver-Langara candidate Moira Stilwell. Supporters have been invited to closed door get-together at Himalaya Restaurant featuring the party leader. The following is a complete copy of that invite.

From: Moira Stilwell []
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 3:44 PM
Subject: All hands on deck-please come!
Importance: High

The Campaign to Elect Moira Stilwell
invites you to a

A Private Event


Premier Gordon Campbell

April 23rd
6:30 pm
Himalaya Restaurant
(Main and 50th)


Maybe it's not quite the same thing, but coincidentally I and many other Vancouver PAC parents will also be gathering to offer home-made sandwiches and general support for her rival, NDP candidate Helesia Luke, long-time fellow advocate on children's issues and Save Our Schools campaigns.

I'll be suggesting that her campaign consider holding a bake sale (a public event of course) to support her campaign, since we've all become experts on organizing parent fundraisers to keep our children's public schools functioning in the face of chronic Provincial underfunding.

I'd love to give the Premier another opportunity to come and talk to ordinary Vancouverites about public education too, since the BC Liberals decided that paying respect to their political funders was more important than excusing a single BC Liberal candidate to attend Monday's city-wide all-candidates meeting on education issues in Vancouver.

I've always held my tongue (and my nose by the way) as it pertained to Dawn Steele's endless rants against the Ministry of Children because regardless of her irrationality, at least she appeared to be an indpendent advocate for children with special needs. However now that I see she's become an advocate for the NDP and lost all independent credibility, I figure she's fair game like anyone else.

How can anyone that is capable of adding, look at the continually increased budget of Education (both K-12 and Post Sec) and at the same time look at the severe drop in grade school enrollment and continue to lie to the public about an underfunding of public education?

No one was listening to you before Dawn, but your latest post should outright secure that perpetually. And if I was Helisia Luke, I would think long and hard before having someone like Dawn Steele associated with my campaign.

Mr. Shmim--

That was some ad hominem you just flung at Ms. Steele.

I, for one, am happy to listen to/ read her comments anytime.

Especially when they are on point regarding the post at hand.

As for your comments, well....



I thought we were talking public education. What are you talking about?

Thank you Mr Shmim, I'm very glad you asked that question as I'm more than happy to debunk that myth for you. The math is not difficult, and I'm sure you will find it worth following if you're interested in public education.

If the Province increases education funding, but not as much as it has increased costs over the corresponding period (i.e. by ordering two sets of teacher salary increases in six years and legislating minimum class sizes) then it puts schools in a deficit position. If a drop in enrolment produces savings that are larger than that deficit, then schools will be back in the black. But if the enrolment drop is marginal, and produces insufficient savings to compensate for unfunded cost increases, then schools face deficits and students face cuts to their individual service levels.

That, in a nutshell, is what has happened almost every year in the past decade. For example, about half of the $7 million cut facing Vancouver this year relates to projected enrolment reductions and the other half to unfunded costs. And if you look at special education, my advocacy focus, the picture is far more dire.

In 1999, provincial records confirm the Province allocated $422 million annually for special education, with BC schools collectively diverting a further $50 million from their regular budgets to make up the shortfall. In 2008, the Education Ministry's Operating Grants Manual confirms that the Province is now only spending $292 million annually on special ed. Vancouver alone must find an extra $30 million annually to cover the shortfalls in Provincial special ed funding.

During this period, the number of identified students with special needs in Vancouver increased by 26%. But due to under-funding, Vancouver was forced to cut the number of special education teachers by 29% between 2001 and 2008. That resulted in a 70% increase in caseloads and was directly responsible for us failing many of Vancouver's most vulnerable students.

(You will find links to a series of reports, briefs and presentations explaining this in more depth at: The Education Ministry also keeps lots of useful stats if you are interested in reading the facts for yourself instead of reciting verbatim the mythical mantras spun out by Ministry flacks.)

When you look around at what fuels teenage gangs, drug wars, crime, addiction and the mess on the Downtown Eastside, not to mention challenges linked to the growing economic crisis, you have to wonder whether the BC Liberals' attempt to cover up their growing shortfall in public education funding with spin represents intelligent public policy, fiscal responsibility or effective management.

Or perhaps you'd rather not. But I do.

Dawn Steele you do not make sense. You say Spec. Ed. budget was cut from $422M to $292M.

So? Possibly $422M was a bloated figure put in by parasitic unions under the NDP?

You say Vancouver cut Spec Ed teachers by 29% - So? Could it be that we had too many busybody teachers working 29 hours a week?

You dont make sense Dawn Steele, and dont insult our intelligence with such meaningless comparative plays with figures.

70% increase in case load? What if there was little caseload to begin with?

Whenever the teachers go off union, I will start believing you.

First of all Ms. Steele you calling anyone a "flack" is the utmost in hypocracy so careful not to throw too many stones in your glass house.

Second, special needs in the general classroom is an utter failure and everyone knows it. Education has been adversely affected by special needs and we're so far down some kind of sacrosanct highway on this that no one has the guts to turn around. Special needs should be handled in special ways, not by trying to jam it through a mainstream classroom. It's like driving a square peg through a circular hole and the result is that no one is served properly.

You like so many advocates think the simple answer is to throw more money at the problem. It's simply not true. Like Health, there is more than enough money in the system. Systems require innovative ideas, something the BCTF has absolutely no experience in or desire to adopt. Until that changes the public is simply not interested in throwing more money down a black hole with no positive outcomes guaranteed.

And your class size issue is simple bunk, plain and simple. If one looks at international jurisdictions where students have real academic success, there's no real correlation to class size. South Korea for instance. Like so many Canadians I taught in classrooms in Korea between degrees. I never saw a classroom with less than 45 kids. I'm not saying that's ideal, but I am saying this class size argument is not as relevant as you and the BCTF would suggest.

And laying blame on the Liberals for the gangs and the downtown eastside is reprehensible on your part. If you think education funding is the only root cause of a social epidemic, you are living in your own little world and need to get a hold of reality. Again, you like so many other advocates think your issue is the only issue out there. Government is a $40 billion annual budget with a multitude of challenging efforts. Get a grip and understand that there are more interests that just yours.

If you look at where we've come from 2001 to 2010 in this Province, most would agree we have improved. You can cherry pick certain stats and issues but the facts are this, Aboriginals, Environmentalists, Public Sector Unions, and Business (small and big) have all signed on with the BC Liberals. That's remarkable in our Province's history, and Gordon Campbell deserves some credit for having a plan and following through. Is he perfect, no, and he'd be the first to admit it I'll bet. But he's done good work balancing the interests of all British Columbians. The majority understands they are in a better place than they were 8 years ago.

Come up with some ideas Dawn. How about stepping out of your traditional rut and working with the government instead of lobbing bombs at them over and over? Don't just request more of the taxpayers hard earned dollars. It's not good enough and you need to do better in this modern age.

Thanks for your questions, Mr Furman:

1) An independent provincial review of special education that reported to the Minister in 2000 found the $422 million was not bloated but inadequate. It also discussed many of the systemic gaps:

2) Provincial parent groups and other stakeholders that agree on little else have consistently and unanimously agreed over the past decade that funding of special education is inadequate and that the situation worsened significantly after 2002, when then-Minister Christy Clark ended provincial special education funding grants for most students with special needs and ordered an unfunded salary increase for the province's teachers. Examples of briefs and position statements to that effect, dating back from the 1990s through the present day, include:

- BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils:

- BC Autism Council:

Learning Disabilities Association of BC parent survey:

Individual districts like Richmond:

BC Association of School Trustees: (Resolution #31, 2008) at

BC Association for Community Living:

3) As per several of the reports cited above, caseloads were seen as too high in the 1990s. In Vancouver today, special education teachers have caseloads of 60 to 150 students. Maybe you don't think that's too high. If class sizes are limited to 30 or less for typical students, most rational people would agree that's too high. Many students never get to see a special education teacher. Increasingly, many are never even assessed and identified as requiring special education services.

The independent Representative for Children and Youth has recently documented the negative consequences of not adequately supporting groups of vulnerable students:
I especially recommend reading her most recent report "Kids, Crime and Care," which looked at the long-term individual and societal implications of failing to support these kids, in terms of crime, justice system, etc.

In conclusion, Mr. Furman, if you have a problem with the teachers' union, go take it up with them instead of punishing my child and the rest of the province's 60,000 students with special needs who are paying the price for your bizarre anti-union vendettas. The kids are the ones hurting today, but these things have a way of going around and coming right back at you.

Mr Shmim, nice to hear from you again and Sean my apologies for sparking such a lengthy debate:

1) Inclusive education is the policy of the BC government, protected by the Canadian Charter and globally accepted as the appropriate way to educate students with special needs, when you weigh long-term costs vs benefits. If you believe there is sufficient public support to challenge this and seriously propose that the BC Liberals or another government change the current policy, BC voters should be made aware of that.

2) The academic success of my autistic son (Grade 9) is living proof that inclusive education works and that BC teachers can achieve remarkable success when students are adequately supported. But don't take my word - there are scads of formal studies if you care to learn. If you'd rather support people like him their whole lives instead of giving them the ability to become independent, contributing citizens, fine. I'd like to see him leave the nest on his own someday.

3) The benefits of class size have been comprehensively documented in the literature, which is why the BC Liberals recently introduced class size limits (which they neglected to fully fund, thus requiring more cuts to "non-enrolling" staff like special ed teachers). The effects may coexist and do not negate the effects of other factors on outcomes, e.g. cultural and other factors in the examples you cited. The relative importance of class size also depends on context, subject and students.

4) I was not referring to class size but caseloads. With all due respect, I disagree that caseloads of 60 to 150 students with special needs is adequate to provide the individual attention required for academic success. We currently have some 60,000 students with special needs in the K-12 system and hundreds of thousands more have graduated in the past decade. Their families, including parents like North Van's Rick Moore who is still fighting through the courts to address these wrongs, would disagree that caseloads of 100 special needs students meet any definition of reasonable.

5) On links between education, support for vulnerable children and crime, I cite again the recent report from BC's Representative for Children and Youth, which adds to a substantial body of international literature on the long-term savings to society of investing in vulnerable children, and the high costs of failing to do so.

6) Perhaps for you political loyalty justifies overlooking the highest child poverty rate in Canada and a growing host of social problems because governments would rather invest in bridges, highways, Olympics and government advertising than in adequate supports for BC's children. That's your choice. You're paying the costs of such short-sighted policy along with the rest of us taxpayers.

7) I have ideas - they are time-proven and supported by all the literature: invest in kids. And I've been working with governments at all levels for over a decade (yes NDP as well as Liberal) to remind them that this benefits taxpayers in the long run, is totally doable and provides substantial results, and is simply a matter of rethinking priorities.

Dawn Steele - you still make little sense.

The source you quoted to show that $422 million spent by BC on special education is inadequate has 47 recommendations.

A quick scan of these 47 recommendations did NOT say that $422 M was inadequate.

Maybe you can be more specific and back your fantastic assertions up - instead of playing withour intelligence and our time?

Exactly where in this report does it say that the $422 is inadequate, Ms. Steele?

Thank you Mr Furman, and no, I would not play with your intelligence:

I refer you to Page 22 of the report, which states: "In 1999/2000 the Ministry of Education allocated $422,790,218 to special education. A preliminary review of the 1999/2000 school board preliminary budgets shows that $54,000,000 above the Ministry of Education target minimum has been budgeted for special education."

Elsewhere, the report noted as a key theme: "The important contributions that teachers, teachers’ assistants, and specialists make to meeting the special educational needs of students would be enhanced by additional preparation and support."

The report noted a host of other problems and needs, including coordination of services, lack of standards and accountability, training and other resources, etc. It is a sad reflection that more recent district/parent reviews consistently identify all the same concerns, with no progress made and in fact a worsening of many of these problems in the past decade. And this in a context, as previously noted, in which many schools and teachers continue to do remarkable work in some cases, despite the increasingly impossible task due to a lack of provincial leadership and commitment to resolving systemic challenges.

The concerns about funding in the 1990s were echoed by the other sources I cited. If you choose to interpret all this as evidence that the former NDP government was adequately supporting special education and that the problem therefore only began under the BC Liberals, fine. I'm just trying to state the case based on the evidence, without any political blinkers on.

If the plan was so cut and dry, don't you think government would adopt your policies? Do you really think that the mean old Liberals don't care about helping children? It's preposterous. You are so blinded by your own, now political, interests. Of course there are stacks of studies. They're all written by folks drinking the same Kool Aid including the Child and Youth Rep who has no fiscal responsibilities! I respect her work but do you think she would do anything different from the Premier if she walked in his shoes. If she, or you, really want to put through the changes, stop writing your reports, grab the bull by the horns and run for office. We'll see if you manage to get your policies through.

And your sad, tired diatribe about investment in the Olympics, Bridges, Highways should just stop. You have no clue about economics, or what it takes to make money. You only know how to spend it on your own pet programs. So save your ideas for a realm where you have some shred of credibility.

Yes, Mr Shmim, I agree it's preposterous, but you'd have to ask Mr Campbell, not me, why he won't implement changes that, as you note, are so "cut and dried." Even his own bipartisan provincial budget committee has highlighted the concerns about special education funding.

It's your prerogative of course to dismiss all the independent studies, reports and data that I've cited, but I note that you've provided none of your own to support any different conclusions.

I don't think we should further bore Sean's readers debating what I (or for that matter you) know about economics or making money so I'll just add that if you have any further specific questions relating to the budgetary or policy aspects of this issue, I'd be happy to point you to the answers.

(But if you're truly interested in economics I highly recommend Paul Krugman's blog: (my favourite Liberal economist). I also quite like BBC's Robert Peston for the UK/European take on things:


I've read your unchallenged rants against the public servants at the Ministries of Children and Education for too long on this site. Everyday, those folks from the Deputy Ministers to the file clerks as well as the elected politicians bust their humps working for children across the province. And in return, all they get from you is endless grief and criticism. I challenge you to try to understand the multiple interests government has and widen your focus to include something other than yourself. Your antiquated notions of "the squeeky wheel gets the grease" are played out. I can assure that your approach to advocacy does more to harm your cause than to help it. I'd just ask you to think about that.

Dawn Steel, thank you for those insights into the funding of education, esp. special needs education in BC. At a candidates forum in Naniamo the Liberal candidate for Nanaimo-North Cowichan was asked a question dealing with BC having the worst poverty rate for children in Canada. He had to ask the moderator in that fact was true. This shows us the uncaring attitude the BC Liberals have when they don't have a clue of what is happening in BC.

For the record, Mr. Shmim (are you regretting that monniker yet?), I have indeed criticized the manangement failures of the Minister for Children and Families and his current Deputy.

I have never criticized the mid-level management and front-line staff of the Ministry on this blog. On the contrary, I have worked closely with them and have strongly supported the same concerns that they themselves have brought forward regarding the lack of leadership, support and resources they receive in trying to serve vulnerable children in BC.

Dawn Steele, you dont make sense.

You claimed that $422 million allocated for Spec. Ed. is just adequate.

I asked for backup evidence.

You quote a report (page 22), that DOES NOT say that $422 is adequate, under-adequate, or over-adequate. It says something very different. Neither does this report consider the multiple layers of inefficiency that may or may not exist.

So in other words - you have no evidence - or if you do, you are not providing it. You are just presenting your opinion - and can't back it up, and trying to dupe us into believing that your opinion is fact. So far I have been correct in saying that you wish to insult our intelligence.

Again, I ask you to show evidence that $422 M was the minimum adequate amount and that $292 M is inadequate (assuming you have been factual with the $292 M number, which I am starting to doubt).

Your credibility is slipping, Ms. Steele.

Please provide backup evidence, and cut the verbiage and obfuscation.

Mr Furman, I did not state $422 million was adequate. I said it was clearly inadequate. As the Review noted, Boards were being forced to divert $30 million more from other services back in 1999 to maintain special ed services that were still widely viewed as inadequate.

Don't take my word for it. Here's more hard data: Hansard transcripts of Nov 2001 public hearings on education held by the BC Liberals after they took office, where speaker after speaker highlighted concerns about special ed funding:

I realize it's hard to make sense of a complex issue if you don't have direct experience, don't have hard facts and haven't studied it in-depth. But please take the time to fully read all the references provided before assuming that it doesn't make sense. If you look at the broad record, you will see clearly that at no time in the past decade has special ed funding not been viewed broadly as a major problem.

And confirming the $292 million is simply a matter of you clicking on the link I provided for the Ministry of Education's official Operating Grants manual.

I'm trying to be respectful and I'm always happy for an opportunity to build understanding of these challenges among a broader audience. But I won't debate this further until you take the time to read the answers I provided to your earlier questions, or else provide references of your own to explain what hard facts support our conclusion that this doesn't make sense.

I'm always happy to learn more about these issues from those willing to share their expertise, but with all due respect, there is no point in me trying to debate your unfounded convictions and slurs.

Ms. Steele - don't change the subject. You are claiming that the Liberals are inadequately funding SpecEd at $292M because the NDP was funding it at $422M. The logic is most specious because you have never established that $292M is inadequate, after reforms have taken place.

You need to provide an expert's study on the budget, or at least a neutral article on this matter. Snippets of verbiage from irrelevent sources and collective lobby groups and self-interested unions does not make a case.

Have respect for facts and if you do not have backup evidence, then you should not make off-the-cuff claims for their rhetorical effect (e.g. cutting a budget means its inadequate - a non-sequitor). This is the internet age, after all.

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