Diary of a Mad Trustee January 19th 2011 Open Board Meeting

Our Trustee Eden

 Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice


 Resist the Beginning…Consider the End


 Sometimes I expect to see the camera crew from Punk’d as we wend our way through these meetings. This does not of course mean I spend any more time on my appearance (once while grocery shopping a cashier pulled a stick out of my hair) but this meeting I was definitely looking around for Justin Bieber.

When we received the early returns for classroom conditions at the October 20th 2010 meeting (http://capeincowichan.bc.ca/2010/11/01/diary-of-a-mad-trustee-open-board-meeting-october-20th-2010/) we discovered there were in Cowichan that month 227 classes which contravened standards set out by Bill 33. So out of about 1200 classes in our district (December 2009 it was 1202) over 20% failed to meet the timid benchmarks established by the legislation.

As commanded by this legislation, trustees were presented with the monthly reports for November and December which seemed either fantastically improved and spectacular or dismally incorrect. It appeared to the naked eye we had only 14 classes/divisions in our whole district with more than 30 students and /or more than 3 students with special Ed codes.

Time to celebrate; time to hang up our hats because our job is done.

Again – we were the victims of a change in reporting which is neither explicit nor transparent. Evidently, we were only receiving information regarding ‘changes’ – not the current situation in our classrooms.

In other words, if classroom conditions sucked big style back in October (which they did) and had not improved or worsened, the document we were given records ‘none’ in the size and composition category for each school. The unwary would glance across the report and deduce things have really picked up here in SD 79. Perhaps they would imagine we have been robbing banks or enjoying the results of a mass lottery win. Any way you strike it – it resonates with slyness.

Happily – we have asked to return to the previous practice and receive the actual monthly information. It should not be too difficult to return to the old days of just last year. And though I am sure senior staff merely wished to cheer us up with airbrushed classroom conditions reports, we are all big girls and we can take the truth especially since our employees have to live the truth every day regardless of the whitewash presented at the board table.

A petty efficiency which creates ambiguity is best set side. Either that or we redefine efficiency so it is not just a means to obscure reality.

As you know, the AFG is a grant which school districts receive to address anything which adds to the long term physical betterment of our schools – the amount is determined by enrolment as well as the average age of facilities with an adjustment for geographic factors. In our district, this has roughly totalled $1.8 million each year.

  There are 12 categories of eligible Annual Facilities Grant (AFG) expenditures:

  •  Roof Replacements (including scheduled roof replacements and major roof repairs)
  •   Mechanical System Upgrades (improvements, replacements or provision of heating,  ventilation, air conditioning or plumbing systems)
  • Electrical System Upgrades (improvements or replacements of power supply and distribution systems)
  • Facility Upgrades (improvements to protect the fabric of the plant, including exterior painting, window and door replacement, building envelope repair and replacement, structural and non-structural seismic  mitigation)
  • Loss Prevention Projects (improvements, replacements or provision of fire protection  system)
  • Functional Improvements (improvements of school facilities related to the provision of educational programming)
  • Technology Infrastructure Upgrades (“behind the wall” improvements to accommodate computer and telecommunications wiring and cabling)
  • Site Upgrades (site improvements including positive site drainage; repairs to sidewalks,parking lots, site access/egress, paved work areas, paved play areas, and play fields;perimeter safety fencing; contaminated soil remediation; underground storage tanks removal)
  • Disabled Access (improvements related to access for persons with physical disabilities)
  • Asbestos Abatement
  • Health and Safety Upgrades (improvements related to indoor air quality, seismic vulnerability, traffic safety, and structural upgrades)
  • Site Servicing (improvements, replacements or provision of sewer, drainage or water services; underground irrigation systems).

 In other words – beyond caring for the more mundane repair elements of our schools, this grant recognises the need to continually fund and carry out projects to keep our buildings healthy and safe for our kids and staff; districts are also entrusted with sustaining schools for the future and prolonging their useful life.

 This is sound enough and would be a responsive approach but …

Back in the summer of 2009 after waiting through the normal April deadline for disbursement of the facilities grant, an announcement arrived from Victoria out of the blue telling districts the  grant was revoked for that year (actually for 5 quarters) because it was claimed boards had been piling up reserves as surplus.

  This of course was hilarious. School districts were simply holding funds until seasonal work could commence on much needed and in many cases already prearranged and resourced projects.

 The AFG received for 2009/10 was $919,526. The funds we will receive for 2010/2011 are $886,686.  The combined amount must now be burned up before March 31st 2011. We currently have no indication as to the future allocation methods or the amount of the grant for 2011/12.

So for now it appears though the grant has been reinstated, it has been cut by about 50 %.( though it is anybody’s guess here in Thunderdome BC)

However, as I listened to the secretary treasurer describe how we had to use up the allocation from the last 2 years I could not help myself. This surely is one of the best examples of gallows humour we had ever enjoyed and let’s face it – with this government it is up against some pretty tough competition.

Now it seems we can’t plan. We can’t parse off portions of the grant to save for larger capital expenses which our skilled staff foresee. Evidently, if we do not spend it by March 31st,it will be clawed back as unneeded. It is like being at the mercy of the Delta fraternity from Animal House. If the description of their work below does not sound familiar, it is at least reminiscent.

“Cut the horseshit, son. I’ve got their disciplinary files right here. Who dropped a whole truckload of fizzies into the varsity swim meet? Who delivered the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner? Every Halloween, the trees are filled with underwear. Every spring, the toilets explode.”

Yes – its true – our province is being run for the express entertainment of underachieving goof balls who spend every day dreaming up new ways to confound the provision of any public service as they gear up for the next prank. Sadly, they are not quite as lovable or festive as the Animal House crew is. I for one do not wish to attend a toga party in their company. If this is their idea of running the province like a business it may explain why we are left bailing out corporations and banks.

We are now obliged- due to the shortsightedness of the ministry -to modify the timelines and conditions we normally must use to put our capital projects and purchasing to tender. However, I would also say we have not been willing to pay heed to the expertise of our managers in Operations who warned about this approaching deluge last summer. This will cost us money and effectiveness.

This meeting saw the annual ceremonial offering of the motion to seek board recognition of our parents’ right to decide whether their children should write the FSA. There was no intention of having another go round debating the relative merits of this form of evaluation since our board is on the record as being opposed to the FSA regime. Tonight the motion was deliberately neutral. It was not intended to direct parents to eschew the testing.

 The motion does not comment on the value or merit of the tests. The motion simply states our board acknowledges rights which are already extended by other historic freedoms.

 “That the Board of Education, SD # 79 recognises the right and responsibility of parents and students to determine whether or not the student’s participation in the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) testing program is in the best interest of the student.”

This passed handily which frankly came as something of a surprise since in 2009 the same motion was regarded as legal grounds for extradition.

I thought the follow up motion would be a mere matter of house keeping:

“That the Board of Education, SD #79 approves for immediate distribution to the parents and guardians of students currently enrolled in grades 4 and 7, a letter explaining the Board’s position addressing the issue of parent choice regarding student participation in the Foundation Skills Assessment program for 2011.”

 But, by god – this was defeated. Yes, it’s true. We are prepared to take a position but we would prefer not to actually formally tell anyone, which means parents will not have the support from us to do as they see fit and are reduced to continue debating with adamant staff about their right to decide.

 We did however agree to send another pointed letter to the Ministry expressing our doubts about the whole FSA matter. It should occur to all trustees we would be more able to transform the current situation if we did it shoulder to shoulder with teachers and families rather than stepping back from them and smithing out another letter.

 It may be a good opportunity to lecture the ministry about standardised testing  but they don’t give a f#@k  about our opinions. With the full force of our community beside us to make them give a f#@k – anything is possible. We need to communicate with our families – not a disinterested, arrogant ministry drone.

 I would like to recognise that FSA and other standardised testing approaches are only one component within the blueprint for dismantling and dehumanising public education. The provincial funding frameworks which deprive our classrooms of critical resources, confirm the ongoing frittering away of our lands and buildings and reinforce discouraging conditions of work all play their part in this deranged endeavour.

 I will close by touching on the draft budget numbers submitted to the Budget Committee this week. We are now expected to continue the hoax of slashing in order to balance the budget to the tune of $1.4 million – over $1 million at this time coming right out of the classroom.

 We begin where we always do – with no acknowledgment whatsoever of the massive running total our board has been expected to carve out of the system year after year. We begin with the assumption every horrific cut stands into perpetuity : 7 weeks of custodial layoffs; a week of instruction down the pan; bussing slashed despite safety concerns; large scale cuts to Alternate Education and Intensive Behaviour programs-these are all carved in stone and beyond reconsideration as far as the process is concerned.

 You would think with all this cutting we would see the tremendous payoff in efficiencies; you would think we would start to see some relief. We are told this is about streamlining our system as the government is always giving us what we need. If what Victoria tells us is true you would think we would finally get to a point where it is no longer necessary to cut.

 Keep an eye on this new budget submission – something tells me this is a classic ‘bait and switch’ or maybe a darker version of National Lampoon’s immortal cover “Buy this Magazine or we will shoot this Dog!!”

 Perhaps by the time we are done, they will have offered to resuscitate some of the programs they are threatening to delete in return for some terrible concessions elsewhere.

 Whatever may happen, our only hope is to stand together and remember– this is never going to stop until we stop it ourselves.

 Your Trustee Pal


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