The cash-strapped Vancouver School Board rejected an offer from Chevron Canada in March that would have provided $475,000 to schools through a district-wide program.
The offer was not a cash donation. Instead, the money would reach students and teachers by way of new equipment and school projects.
“We don’t have a district department to handle something like that,” explained Patti Bacchus, Vision Vancouver chair of the VSB.
Chevron’s considerable offer comes at a time when school boards across the province are struggling to make up for budget shortfalls.
When asked about the possibility of creating a department to coordinate district-wide corporate funding, Bacchus’s response was a firm no. “And in fact, when I came into office there was a department that had been set up for that purpose. And at that time the management at VSB recommended that we wind it up because the cost it took to run it exceeded the money it brought in,” she said.
Bacchus pointed out that schools and teachers would not be prevented from receiving corporate donations if they made their own arrangements.
Chevron wanted the project to be district-wide, making it impossible for teachers to access the $475,000 on their own.
Chevron says that it has a policy of using a partnership model when making, what it calls, a social investment in education. Chevron’s Fuel Your School program would channel funding to classrooms through a charity called My Class Needs. Teachers would then apply to the charity for grants for specific projects, especially those involving science, technology, engineering and math.
Chevron was aware of the possible concerns that come with corporate funding, according to Vancouver-based spokesperson Adrien Byrne.
“I know [the VSB] has policies against corporate advertisement in schools, which this program doesn’t do,” he said.
The VSB’s policy on corporate partnerships includes mandating that the district and schools maintain control over curriculum, and prevents students from being forced to view advertisements.
After the school board rejected Chevron’s proposal, Chevron approached the Vancouver District Parents Advisory Council. The parents had concerns about schools being associated with a potentially divisive company like Chevron.
But corporate donations can look appealing when schools consider cutting programs such as athletics and music due to budget restraints.
“I would like the policy reviewed so that there’s access to additional money for classrooms, and so that corporate funding was offered to all teachers,” said Monica Moberg, chair of the District Parent Advisory Council.
Bacchus and Byrne agree a key part of the debate about accepting donations is between an education system that is completely publicly funded and one that accepts some corporate donations.
Chevron is still open to donating money to the Vancouver School Board, according to Byrne. But the school board would need to wait until next year because the $475,000 originally slotted for Vancouver has been re-allocated to six other school districts in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
Surrey classrooms received $200,000 through Chevron’s Fuel Your School program last fall, according to Doug Strachan, spokesperson for the Surrey school district.