Who says politicians don’t listen to young people—or that students can’t make a difference?
Mount Boucherie Secondary school leadership students achieved what few have been able to in prying open the clenched purse strings of District of West Kelowna councillors Tuesday night for new initiatives specifically for young people. And some of the new initiatives definitely weren’t cheap.
Top amongst them is a council reversal on hiring another RCMP officer to be a school liaison officer. Mayor Doug Findlater said students asked for it directly.
“The RCMP has suggested in the past it might be a good thing but council didn’t go there,” Findlater said. “But hearing the stories from the young people made the real difference. They felt there is a lot of things going on at Mount Boucherie and maybe at middle schools that merited having someone available for young people to approach if they know of people—and they do know people—who are dealing drugs in the school or in the schoolyard. They really have no one to go to who can enforce it.”
The students were aware that Kelowna has liaison officers at Kelowna Secondary and Rutland Senior Secondary and Lake Country has one at George Elliott Secondary and felt it fair that they get the same opportunity.
The cost? Close to $200,000 when you include a police car for the officer.
But councillors who normally question every expense, barely blinked.
The students made their original pitch for the position earlier this year and council agreed to look at the issue.
The only source of contention on the issue is how fast it could be done.
While council agreed to push it into the 2012 budget, Councillors Rosalind Neis and David Knowles opposed the move only because they wanted it fast-tracked so the officer could be on site by September.
Neis is on a committee with Findlater and Coun. Gord Milsom that met with students over the last month.
They described emotional and moving meetings that swayed their hearts and minds.
“If having a police liaison officer changes things for one kid, the amount of money saved in family services and crime…is massive,” Neis said. “I would love if the students that were here (could speak again)…they spoke about it more emotionally and realistically than we could reiterate.”
As is a norm for West Kelowna councillors, they will be looking to share the costs on a per student residency basis with Peachland and Westbank First Nation.
Students also talked about challenges they face on city buses, particularly with certain bus drivers.
But more than anything, Findlater said, the students just wanted a voice and council was eager to give it.
They agreed Tuesday night to meet with possibly as many as 100 students from Mount. Boucherie for breakfast at the school.
They agreed to reserve a night to recognize special students and to offer bursaries to students for academics and citizenship.
They will also look at other programming at the district for that demographic.
“We felt the recreation and culture department needs to look at program development aimed at that age group other than sports, which we do well at, but we have to look at other options as well,” Findlater said.