In the coming weeks and months, the Vancouver school board will decide the fate of the culinary arts program in Vancouver schools. The proposal to cut aspects of the program and contract out others should be very alarming to students, parents, the community, and industry alike.
The proposed changes include eliminating educational opportunities provided by teaching cafeterias, removing access to healthy and nutritious meals by closing non-teaching cafeterias, and eliminating the jobs of numerous dedicated and long-term staff members.
The cuts are couched in terms of cost savings, but when did we lose sight of the fact that education is not meant to be a money maker? Education is an investment in our children, our communities, and the future. For many, these programs provide a pathway toward employment in the food-service and hospitality industries, which require an estimated 21,000 skilled workers by 2021.
The labour movement is raising the alarm about these destructive proposals. The International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents most impacted workers, has also noted that these proposals were not mentioned during their recent round of collective bargaining.
This amounts to a case of bargaining in bad faith and means that the perspectives of those doing the work in question were lost during the early stages of this discussion. The same can be said of the voices of parents, students, teachers, chefs, and unions representing other staff in the schools. Instead, the working group that produced these proposals was composed entirely of VSB management personnel.
Somehow while these important programs are being targeted, private cafeterias continue to be subsidized by taxpayers. This is despite failing to follow the Guidelines for Food and Beverage Sales in B.C. Schools, which are intended to ensure healthy and nutritious food for students.
What we need now is not an array of cuts and reductions, but a bold vision to reinvigorate and expand the culinary arts program in order to truly meet the needs of all stakeholders. The trustees have an important decision and, potentially, an exciting opportunity ahead of them.