Power to the people, says school board Meeting Tuesday outlines decentralization By Chris Woodall Howe Sound school board is meeting with Whistler parents, Tuesday, Feb. 17, to spread the word about giving more spending power to individual community schools. The meeting — starting at 7 p.m. at Whistler Secondary School — will discuss how parents, teachers, and students can locally determine how some aspects of a school's budget should be tailor-made to suit the community. Decentralization works on the assumptions that people can be trusted and that those closest to what will happen are in the best position to decide how it will happen. The idea isn't new, but decentralization is trickling through the Howe Sound school board to its schools. Schools are allocated a sum of money each year called a "school block." The block covers a variety of expenditures such as instructional costs (paper, copying, classroom supplies), staff travel, library books, cultural events, equipment repairs, or buying new or replacement equipment. Schools can also "buy" additional services by contributing dollars from fund-raising to cover extras like shelving, additional librarian time, etc. Each school receives a base of $34,000. What decentralization does not include is staffing in the various school areas such as teaching, maintenance or assistants. These are covered by annual funding or school board considerations. The idea is that without bureaucratic interference, decisions can be made swiftly at the local level to bring a rapid solution to a problem. Parents are seen as important contributors to the local process, and sources of risk taking and innovation if given the chance. Teachers also get a chance to work more closely with parents to determine what a project will be and how it can be made to work. Principals like decentralization because they recognize the need for less red tape, to increase parental satisfaction and the role of the classroom teacher. Then there are the students. "What about the kids?" should be the most repeated question in any activity to determine how the students feel about their "working conditions." An example of how decentralization might work is to consider a school's funding for travel. Just because an amount is funded doesn't mean those dollars have to be budgeted. A travel fund of $12,000 may end up having only $8,000 budgeted, freeing $4,000 for use elsewhere — to buy sports equipment, for example. There are potential problems. Some schools (like Whistler's) may have better resources to raise money than schools in "poorer" areas, resulting in educational inequities. Power groups might develop in schools, as those naturally inclined to organize activities dominate proceedings or priorities. Needs may focus on providing something for as many students as possible, forgetting that a few students may have special needs.