School officials are getting too close to corporations and private businesses, according to teachers.
To that end, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has voted to call on the province to establish conflict-of-interest regulations.
But as far as Richmond goes, a new policy would have little affect on the Richmond School District, according to secretary-treasurer Mark De Mello and Richmond Teachers Association president Al Klassen.
If established, a conflict-of-interest policy would have superintendents, deputy superintendents and secretary-treasurers reporting annually on any corporate affiliations they might have or on any income, honorariums or gifts they received by corporations.
The point is to ensure students’ interests are always put first.
It also gives the teachers a chance to let the government know the extent of funding received from parents and businesses in order to meet the schools’ needs.
“Public education funding is inadequate,” said Klassen. “But when we’re dealing with private companies, we need to make sure we know what their interests are because in many cases, there’s a quid pro quo.”
De Mello questioned the necessity of a new policy, considering most districts, as is the case with Richmond, have such guidelines in place.
“We also have a commercialization policy that prevents us from looking at things where students could potentially be exploited for commercial gain,” he said. “So we wouldn’t be unfairly marketing to the kids.”
But for the teachers, increasing commercialization within the schools has become a growing concern and they feel one clear and consistent policy across the province should be established, as is the case with other provinces and states.
“We’ve been aware that there’s been more interest in competing for the education dollar, more companies want to buy into education,” said Klassen.
The policy would be directed at officials such as superintendents and secretary-treasurers who stand to profit from certain dealings with private businesses.
Klassen cited a couple of examples in Seattle and within the province where school officials have sat on the boards of companies bidding for a contract with that particular school.
In other cases, companies such as Pearson, a major textbook provider, have wined and dined teachers willing to use its programs.
Consequently, students might not be receiving the best education tools or won’t be privy to newer and possibly better technology if the schools are locked into exclusive contracts.
However, Richmond has been ahead of the game in establishing some guidelines.
The companies cited as causing the most concern — Pearson, Cisco Systems and Apple — haven’t been a problem for the district, according to De Mello.
Besides an education discount from Apple, he said the district hasn’t received any other incentives.
“I don’t think people are that easily bought, especially in public education,” said De Mello. “We’re all very invested in public education and the students.”
Still, one policy for all districts would minimize any confusion, said Klassen.
“All these guidelines would do is ask for more disclosure, more transparency, and make sure everything is done over the board.”