The Portage Citizen
Yvette Cuthbert is a force of nature many can’t keep up with. Many again believe that energy level can’t be sustained, but the always smiling and deceivingly quiet Portager is not out to prove anything other than ‘if something has to get done, get it done.’
Her dedication to community was once again celebrated with the recognition she has served on the local school board for 20 years. She was honoured at the Manitoba School Boards Association annual general meeting and conference March 14-15 in front of her peers.
Looking back to the beginning, Cuthbert recalls being recruited.
“Way back in the fall of 1998, David Faurschou (1997 to 2011, he was a member of the Manitoba Legislature) asked if I would consider running for school trustee. He was stepping down and was looking for a replacement.”
Having experience as a parent organizer, “I had started the Parent Council at Prince Charles school where my children went to school.
Funding for schools/programming/staff is eternally under fire. Cuthbert says it was no different 20 years ago when she took the plunge into the politics of education.
“We were quite involved in putting on events, like harvest family dances, bringing field trips to the schools in the form of themed trade shows when all funding was cut for “out of school field trips”, including just covering the bussing. Fundraising through fun fairs for playground equipment and much more were some of the things our Parent Council did.”
Prior to becoming a school trustee, and a big part of why she did, was when the school board was again sharpening its budget pencil and further programming appeared to be on the chopping block.
“Trying to be financially responsible, (the school board was) considering cutting, physical education, woodworking, home ec, arts, music…all the fun stuff, all the reasons we enjoy life out of the school programming! That was the most well-attended school board budget meeting ever! I made sure my opinion was heard, as well,” Cuthbert said.
Fast forward into the beginning of her third decade as a trustee and again she finds herself on the educational battlefield. This time from within the local system, but outside of having any real influence as the provincial government looks to make sweeping changes to how education is administered in Manitoba and to trim costs in its delivery.
“Which has me reflecting on the current education review for grades K-12. Did you know that in Gimli after years of lobbying the government for a better music facility and the government finally approving this, all of a sudden, they denied it when shovels were just about in the ground? It was so important to the community where more than 1/3 of the students participate in music, that the community said that they would fund it on their own. The provincial government would “not” allow them to do this either! This was just last fall. Students had a letter writing campaign and even went to Question Period at the provincial legislation, where they had an opportunity to discuss this with Premier Brian Pallister himself in the hallway. Through local voices, they got their music room.
Why wouldn’t the province allow Evergreen School Division to fund their own music room? Possibly, because it may be their plan to cut all, “unessential” programs? Our local taxpayers in Portage la Prairie have paid for the auto mechanics shop. Have you ever been in it to see all the banners our students have won, provincially and nationally? They even teach heavy duty mechanics to students there. How about our new cosmetology lab, the health care course offered to our high school students for free, the building trades and construction with their CNC machine and more. We even have a metal cutting CNC machine at La Verendrye school.
“Besides those, our mental health classes, and various other specific classes for students with various special needs are taught so (students) can add to our society as best they can.
“Schools in Portage la Prairie offer so many classes that potentially could be cut if the province takes away our “local voice” as to how education best serves our community. Every community is so unique, we don’t fit cookie cutter moulds. If students need a psychologist we have those on staff, as well as so many other support services.
“Is there something your child, grandchild, niece, nephew, neighbour’s child, gushes with excitement about what they do at school? Is there a service you are so glad was there for them? Right now with the education review that the province is doing, it sounds like the review is mainly about cutting costs, not about improving education, and I am concerned. I urge anyone and everyone that education makes a difference to write into the education review, and let them know what is important to you. You can email your thoughts and concerns to K12educationcommission@gov.mb.ca
“Teachers thinking that provincial bargaining may be a good idea, be very careful. Last time they did amalgamations it was voluntary, then teachers in amalgamating divisions all got topped up to the highest contract. This time if the review abolishes all school divisions and redraws the map, all those contracts may be null and void, you may be looking at cuts. Can just a handful of divisions — talk is maybe five — really address local needs, especially in a timely fashion?
“I got involved in education and in the school board because I strongly believe, education is the best way to level the playing field. My mom always said people can take away all of your belongings but they can’t take away your education.
“What helps against prejudice, it’s knowledge. Whether that is about race, food, beliefs, etc. What helps people live healthier, move them up economically, and become more caring citizens: education! How do you educate best, you engage the students in things they love and think are important, in things they want to make a difference in. Literacy and numeracy are key, they are key because they teach students how to communicate to have a voice. But to make literacy and numeracy interesting, the “fun” subjects must exist as well. We should all, be lifelong learners, we should all strive to live our best life and that includes quality of life, the fun part.
“20 years as a school trustee and 1/2 way through my 21st year, why am I still a trustee because education and our youth, our future is something I strongly believe in. Please give the education review your thoughts on the benefits of our students having the opportunities that we the Portage la Prairie citizens deem important to our future.”