Diary of a Mad Trustee November 18th 2009 Open Board Meeting



Our Trustee Eden

Our Trustee Eden

  Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

If you think of yourselves as helpless and ineffectual, it is certain that you will create a despotic government to be your master. The wise despot, therefore, maintains among his subjects a popular sense that they are helpless and ineffectual. – Frank Herbert

Sometimes board meetings are about what I can learn or clarify. Sometimes… but you have to listen carefully – like a high pitched whistle only dogs can hear. Occasionally you can even hear the unmistakable sound of others learning too. Sometimes…

Tonight I learned the parents in the Friends of Cowichan Kids are much better than the board at determining exactly what they need to advance the public education system out at the Lake. Frankly their plan is as useful and cogent as anything the board has managed to cobble together for the district. I think their secret is not having the ministry act as a ball and chain around their ankles. In other words – they have refused to see themselves as hapless victims of an irreversible ominous power. We could all do worse than follow their lead.


They have presented to the board before and they will be here again but this time it was in response to the community meeting the board held out at the Lake on October 28th. Finally it has percolated through to most of their school community that there will be a long wait for a new school. Now is the time to tackle medium to long term problems which must be addressed if the Lake communities are to keep their kids in schools in their own neighbourhoods. The Friends of Cowichan Kids have created their own ‘strategic goals’ and I think we could as a board learn quite a bit from their forthright and simple approach. The presenter asked the board to consider these goals in their decision making regarding the schools at the Lake so as time passes these places will not deteriorate or disappear while the families and staff wait for a new school. Logically-they reason- if the schools out there are not nurtured this will result in a migration of Lake students to Duncan which will seriously undermine the likelihood a new school will ever be built. They have thought this through- God bless them.


Towards this end they have crafted the following to guide our work and theirs:


  • Fully resourced, fully funded quality public education for all our children
  • Open, accurate and consistent communication between the school board and our whole community
  • Maintenance of all our current schools as well as new facilities as required
  • The right to enrol at our own neighbourhood schools.
  • Improved bussing 
  • Ongoing communication with the board and provincial government regarding the community expectation for a new school


They are looking for a commitment from this board that we will neither close nor sell any more schools in their communities – it is a simple question and I would like to give them a simple answer.



A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five. Groucho Marx

As you know by now every month we are treated to a report from the superintendent on the Organisation of Classes which is a quaint way of saying he tells us exactly how dreadful the conditions in these classes have become. These reports are mandated through the creation of a whole system now made necessary by the removal of all language which addresses class room size and composition issues from the teachers’ collective agreement. Ah the good old days – when these matters were the subject of contract negotiation and review to ensure that whatever was agreed upon is being lived up to. Not any more. In fact though there is a mighty piece of perverse legislation, Bill 33 – which purports to direct class conditions -all that has happened is we now have an industrial process for violating even the rather bland and flawed standards this Bill has imposed.

I think I am safe in saying we would have been better off if the government had established even more miserable benchmarks but allowed no divergence. Now – with a bit of consenting and consulting we have over 200 classes this month where the stated targets are left in the dust.


Individual CLASSES cannot exceed these limits:

Kindergarten: 22 (not altered by Bill 33, previously in the School Act)

Grades 1–3: 24 (not altered by Bill 33, previously in the School Act)

Grades 4–7: 30 (cannot be exceeded unless the superintendent and principal agree that the organization of the class is appropriate for student learning and the teacher consents within 15 school days after school opening day)

Grades 8–12: 30 (cannot be exceeded unless the superintendent and principal agree that the organization of the class is appropriate for student learning and the principal has consulted the teacher within 15 school days after school opening day)

What is the class-composition provision in Bill 33?

There can be no more than three students for whom IEPs must be designed in any class, K–12, unless the superintendent and the principal agree that the organization of the class is appropriate for student learning and the principal has consulted the teacher within 15 school days after school opening day.

You would think this is bad enough as it stands but we are not able to adequately analyse the full failure of the system without acknowledging other elements about which we simply do not receive any information.

To that end, a motion was tendered asking the following:

In addition to the information contained in the monthly Organization of Classes Report, Trustees will receive the following details:

1)                  EA support time in each school

2)                  Numbers of teachers consulted on their classroom conditions who disagree with these conditions

3)                  Number of students that teachers have identified as requiring evaluation for an IEP who are awaiting this process


Actually, I sometimes think we should ask our kids how they feel about their class conditions. I bet we would get some very thoughtful, frank and useful comments. Teachers have been trained to cope no matter what – but kids may see the situation without the overlay of a psychological fog which forces teachers to muck through rather than trouble their colleagues and bosses.

As to the motion, it has been referred and oddly so to the next regular closed board meeting because divulging this information might identify individual students. This of course would never be the intention and honestly, I can’t see how telling trustees in an open meeting that 30 kids at a middle school are waiting to be evaluated for an individual education plan could lead to any breach of privacy. But I will cross that loosely tied suspension bridge over a pit of starving crocodiles when I come to it.


The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion.Molly Ivins


In one last stubborn stab at advancing the manner in which we appoint our chairs, I brought a draft suggestion to the board which asked them to reflect on the wisdom and appropriateness of a rotating chair.


Whenever I think about the characteristics of a good chair for an elected community governing body like the Board of Education I consider the following as my criteria:

  • Strong proponent of quality public education
  • Knowledge of and Respect for the democratic principles embodied in parliamentary procedure
  • Powerful defender of the rights and role of elected representatives


It is clear to me the manner in which we choose our chairs does not allow for the free involvement of all those our communities have sent forward to govern public education at the local level. In my view – we have to confirm through our practice that the position of chair is one of service. I suppose if we had a few trustees throw their hat in the ring and present their credentials publicly in front of community this might be reasonable enough but I have never seen it done that way.

In order to improve inclusion of all trustees as well as those who elected them I believe rather than establish chair and vice chair as we do now we should modify our approach to rotate every trustee through both roles for a period of time which  will allow all trustees to take up these positions over the term.

I see many benefits to this; it would build the capacity of each trustee to grasp the mechanics of agenda preparation as well as other responsibilities the chair and vice chair must take up. We would all become more sensitive to the difficulties these duties entail.

Another significant advantage in my opinion;  this approach will tend to enshrine the relationship the chairs has with their colleagues instead of distancing them from the other trustees in favour of closer ties to senior administration. The value of this could never be overstated.

Simply put –I believe that leadership should be the realm of those who do not wish to lead but will do so if compelled by circumstance as a service to their fellows.

 Anyone who wants this job is not the best choice.

Sadly there was no appetite among the majority to even discuss this change – the room fell silent and I believe I observed a tumble weed roll through as the crickets chirped and time stood still. There will be other years and other tumble weeds I am sure.

For the  record –  at this night’s meeting, the theme from ‘Dambusters’ (1955- god bless Wing Commander Guy Gibson) was coursing through my mind though to be fair this may have had more to do with the pot of tea I drank before I arrived than anything that was going on at the table.

Your Trustee Pal,









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