Diary of a Mad Trustee September 15th 2010 Open Board Meeting

 

  

Our Trustee Eden

Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

This is the next in a series of entirely unauthorised reports from this trustee on board meetings. If this email has made its way into your computer and you are dismayed please accept my apologies and hit the delete key, which is of course what the delete key is for – that and the little known death ray function when the caps lock is activated. (Only for workplace deployment). I undertake to comment publicly on public matters but of course, this is not in any way intended to reflect the views of the school board. Any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

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The meeting on September 15th was brought to you by the letter ‘B’ which is opportune because we already covered ‘A’ during the first meeting.

Tonight’s subjects were in particular Bussing and BCeSIS which provides a very useful example of ministry priorities and their shortcomings. It is time we reflected- just for a mo- on the curious dichotomy which places vast amounts of our money into the pockets of private venture for doing a crappy job while begrudging essential funding to support public services which have contributed to community for decades.

Between 2005 and June 2010, this district alone has sunk $1,332,146 into the government’s bid to synchronise all student data collection in the province within one software application and allow web access from any location. The ministry browbeat school boards in BC into surrendering to this model in order to replace other forms of software in use. This brave new world was ushered in with a ministry promise of carrying the costs for the first year and a prediction the further costs would be $10 per year per student. The software for BCeSIS was bought by our government from AAL, an Ontario corporation whose main customer base is in the U.S. In response to the U.S. model AAL’s sales approach as specified on its web site promotion was that ‘eSIS’ is “designed to fully support the No Child Left Behind Act and data-driven decision-making.”

Quick -cross yourself then duck and cover. Too late …

I don’t suppose anyone wished to question the assumption province wide access to student records was a good enough argument to spend over $80 million while exacting world class frustrations in every school district. This is a perfect example of change which does not actually address a real problem or advance a situation crying out for improvement. This is the watchword of our ministry really – as long as the money is heading into the pockets of private god fearing interests all other considerations are moot. So off we strode into history.

Whatever the ground level costs, these are mere child’s play compared to the price of the aggravation and pressure our teachers, secretaries, principals and other support staff  have endured over 5 years of  ‘settling in’ with the shiny new system.

This hunk of space age wizardry is slow, inflexible and frankly not designed with the needs of our schools in mind particularly the subtle demands of self directed programs like Kelsey or the alternate program. Yet we persevered as if the period of adjustment could be indefinitely stretched into infinity.

How could we ever calculate the cost of time wasted by our educators and clerical people as they try to wrestle with this demon? If all these folks ever wanted to do was nurture the students in their schools – BCeSIS makes it clear this part of the job is inconsequential compared to the important work of resisting the temptation to puree their computers.

Did it never occur to the progenitors of this silly undertaking there would ultimately be 50,000 teachers among other users who would need access to its magic and generally at the same time?

By God it felt good this night to have a bit of an old kick at BCeSIS which is probably kind compared to what many of our long suffering employees would like to do to it. What would be horrible enough to express the accumulated angst – a hot lead enema perhaps if you could find the suitable location to apply it? Does BCeSIS have an avatar function I wonder?

A kick will have to suffice however. No one in the room stuck up for poor old BCeSIS – if anyone was considering it they must have decided it would be better to just keep quiet. There was the smell of blood in the air.

A motion was passed with zeal as follows:

Whereas:

There have been ongoing difficulties in applying the BCeSIS (British Columbia Electronic Student Information System) software to actual school district data collection needs across BC.

The problems with the system have created time consuming and expensive delays for our educators and other staff which the district has absorbed.

Moved:

The Board of Education SD #79 seeks a provincial evaluation of the utility and cost of the BCeSIS program through a letter to the Ministry of Education with the intention of securing a refund for costs attributed to this initiative

Further, the Board of Education SD #79 asks the BCSTA to support this request by letter and motion.

Moved by Haythornthwaite and seconded by Seymour – carried unanimously

The board voted to send this as a motion to the Provincial Council of the BCSTA later this month.

The Ministry of Education should initiate an assessment pronto which reveals all the real costs to our provincial and district coffers for this system including licensing, hardware, networks, administration, training, security, technical support and aspirin.

This appraisal should be performed by an independent body, not staff already devoted to the cult of BCeSIS for whatever ill considered reason. Following this – districts are entitled to a comparative review in the same spirit contrasting this ‘eSIS’ to a more regional system of managing student information – like the previous one.

Whether the review confirms the status quo or culminates in escorting the dreaded ‘eSIS’ out of town on a rail, all costs should be borne by the ministry and the full tally added to school district operating grants. At least this way – the thunderous sucking sound of resources being drained away from our kids by the endless carnivorous appetite of a jumped up filofax will stop.

After that, the ministry should pay for a parade. We all need a bit of pageantry now and again.

When the budget was being hammered out last spring – a number of trustees, reps from employee groups as well as parents and the aboriginal community asked what bussing would look like with a 20% ($318,568) hack job to the service. It was cold comfort to be told the loss of routes and bus drivers would be managed with a few simple flicks of the wrist – all the kids who currently rode the bus would continue to do so. They would however likely be asked to travel to a succession of central hubs rather than be picked up closer to home. Cold comfort but comfort nevertheless.

Evidently, we might have saved our breath asking. When the bussing was unveiled in September and without any prior notice to our community, things had changed far more and families suddenly found they had no right to attend any schools other than those which were designated ‘home schools’ if they wished to have their children bussed. For years in the breathless language of ‘client’ preference which frankly I have always disliked, parents were encouraged to send their children to their school of choice based on any number of criteria they might have. There were in effect no home schools.

The routes have been adjusted and many of our kids are now denied this service. Only French Immersion families have emerged relatively unscathed but even those students have to contend with the other manifestations of budgets cuts to our bussing. Even the so called courtesy shuttles, meant to operate for students who need to travel to Cow High from the south or Kelsey from the other zones, travel out of a central stop which many kids have no way of getting to.

The bus routes are built overloaded and cannot accommodate all the children who need them – resulting in crowding. In addition, the new arrangement obligates our kids to wait in school parking lots for as long as 45 minutes after classes end before making the trek home. Some drivers have indicated some of the stops created to receive kids more centrally are unsafe and the walks they must make to get to these stops are on roads which do not have adequate shoulders or sidewalks.

Here is the conflicting part for me and maybe for you – we value our bussing services. We treasure the advances they represent. We are aware they are a safeguard for equal access and environmental conscientiousness. To be forced to catalog these current defects is painful because we know most people have no time to protest the changes or demand better. Many families will accept there is nothing for it but adjust and soldier on. In many cases, they will do so by making other arrangements for getting their kids to school.

The only certainty in all this is the ridership of our splendid transportation service will drop off – people will seek to solve their travel problems privately if they can. When next we review the needs, it will have diminished. And the downward pressure to relieve this valley of its largest public transportation service will ramp up at a time when it is the only measure for school travel which makes sense. Make no mistake- this is a backward step and a barbaric one at that.

For the record, the unfortunate adjustments made to the bussing model this year are only another nail in the coffin of this valuable service.

The Ministry of Education provides funding within the annual Funding Allocations System (FAS) to compensate districts for transportation costs, a system which has been in place since 2002/03.

This had been calculated at $85.7 million in 2002 for the 60 boards for transportation. Believe it or not, this sum has not been adjusted and remains at this level to this day. In the intervening time, our Transportation Department in this school district has faced the challenge of maintaining the fleet while balancing a shrinking budget with rising costs – costs which have increased by almost 100%.

The department has achieved this through cutting the mileage our busses travel, technical innovation and reductions in drivers’ hours. Administration has endeavoured to balance district budgets on the back of this service – as time has gone on the cuts have gracefully escalated, carefully year after year – a bit like punching someone through a telephone book – lots of pain with minimal outrage due to an absence of obvious bruising.

Does anyone actually recall we once had three senior drivers who drove 8 hours a day, 5 days a week? Aside from driving the special needs kids to and from school, our bussing system drove all those kids to swimming twice a week, to the riding program at Providence Farm and to life skills programs. Not any more – not since 2004.

By 2005, sports and field trips had been cut by more than half and the midday kindergarten runs had stopped; the department had endured a 50% cut to full time employees and the 10 most senior drivers had their hours cut by 25%. The rest of our drivers suffered a 15% drop in income.

So – what is the lesson here?

Every year since BCeSIS reared it’s ugly head as God’s answer to everything, it has enjoyed unvarnished enthusiasm from the folks in charge. No expense was considered too lavish; our overseers took no evidence of poor performance and delay seriously enough to reconsider the whole project. During this period, the same forces for progress bad mouthed the bussing department claiming it was some sort of luxury cab service rendered exorbitantly expensive by the unruly demands of thoughtless parents and students. The barest legal minimums set out in the School Act are good enough when it comes to providing our students with crucial services but it is cost plus all the way for the software manufacturers and their many splendoured beneficiaries.

If we are to honestly ask ourselves which feature of our school district contributes most to student safety, equal access to learning, opportunity to graduate, environmental vigour and community cohesion what would the answer be? Evidently, this is all about the kids or so I am informed ad tedium when the occasion suits. I can’t find any real evidence to that effect as we examine this present situation but if you repeat something often enough most people give up in exhaustion and never get around to telling you how full of balloon juice you really are.

In keeping with the theme – the next meeting will no doubt be brought to you by the letter ‘C’.

Our laws make law impossible; our liberties destroy all freedom; our property is organized robbery; our morality an impudent hypocrisy; our wisdom is administered by inexperienced or mal-experienced dupes; our power wielded by cowards and weaklings; and our honour false in all its points. I am an enemy of the existing order for good reasons.  

– George Bernard Shaw

 Your Trustee Pal

       Eden

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