Diary of a Mad Trustee Open Board Meeting February 2nd 2011

 

                             

Our Trustee Eden

                       

  Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

        Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”  -Anne Frank

                                                                                                                                                    

Life at the board coal face is quite the scene, man.

It is budget time – when is it not budget time?

 A good chunk of the rationale for having managers and professionals is not to care for schools or produce the gentle hum of learning but to impose the tedium of austerity on our districts.

It is of course comedic – if we did not have to spend all our time squaring off over the desperate destructive fiscal frameworks the government chooses (yes chooses) to inflict on us as well as the silly achievement protocols necessary to distract us from our misery, we would not need many of the most highly compensated people who populate our payroll.

Imagine if you can a world where our funding was rational and responsive; a result of exuberant democracy instead of a death march darkening many of the days we would otherwise enjoy nurturing our kids.

Tonight four motions were brought to tease out some of the details both small and grand in this process – we called them housekeeping motions which they are because they can if properly observed tidy up the landscape quite a bit.

 It is moved:

The Board of Education SD 79 instructs the Budget committee 2010/2011 to create budget recommendations which support the principles outlined in the District Strategic Plan 2010-2015

 Through much of 2009, our board was absorbed with developing a Strategic Plan. This entailed open houses through out the district as well as curious little working sessions with a ministry nanny tenaciously guiding us through the process.

I felt (and as it turned out I was by no means alone) like a kid being allowed to make macaroni pictures in the presence of my betters. Eventually we mutinied and completed the process on our own which I think brings no small credit to our board.

The Plan was finalised in January of last year and by the fall, we had an Action Directive in place to fulfill the aims outlined in the plan itself. Predictably, I was not in full agreement with either the plan or the actions aligned with it but it lives and has at its heart a reasonable recognition of community goals as well as our own goals at their best.

The purpose of this motion was to seek some harmony between the budget details and the document we now call our ‘plan’. After all, it would have been a total waste of time to sew this ‘plan’ together and chisel out the ideas word by word if we pay no mind to it during a period as crucial to the operation of our district as budget time.

http://www.sd79.bc.ca/groups/schoolboard/wiki/748f8/Strategic_Plan.html

  Under the section Goal: Programs and Services – this is how we as a board envisioned our approach

 • Continue to nurture academic, fine arts, social development, and physical education

• Maintain current educational choices and opportunities

• Improve transition and graduation rates

• Strengthen curriculum and teaching which reflects the Hwulmuhw language and culture

  • Support at-risk students and students with special needs

• Expand trade and employment training programs

• Strengthen the French Immersion K-12 programme

• Support Early Learning opportunities

 As you can see – it is unlikely the stingy revenue offering of the government will meet these fine objectives. The true test now is in exploring whether our loyalty and commitment is to the mischief of the ministry or the thoughtful spirit of our own principled roadmap for our schools.

Bless the Lord and good riddance to Evil.

It is moved:

The Board of Education SD 79 instructs  senior staff  to separate out the 9 trustee positions/salaries from the 26 FTE in item #13 entitled ‘Other Professional Salaries’ in the Budget Summary by Object2 effective immediately.

 In the full budget package recently sent out containing the 1st draft submissions from the senior staff on page 5 of the second document there is an interesting and concise outline of expenditures largely dedicated to wages, salaries and benefits for our workforce in SD #79.

The line ‘Other Professional Salaries’  which signifies the salaries of all senior staff, managers, exempt workers has included all trustees swelling the number to 26 FTE.

Fully one third of the total.

Yet it seemed a bit inappropriate and wooly to have the remarkably poorly paid elected folks corralled in with the management –all 9 of us combined barely account for even one of the more modestly remunerated managers. Therefore – we asked to be busted out of the management compound and put in our own budget line so the community can see the real cost of management and the sadly miserable compensation for those they elect to office. This will allow anyone to review the numbers and cultivate their own notions sans confusion. 

It is moved:

“That the Board of Education SD79 directs senior staff to explore the comparative details regarding all exempt staff currently employed in our district which clearly documents the changes in our management structure and enrolment as early as records allow, including all salaries and costs such as cell phones and usage, professional development and travel, and bring this information to the Budget Committee.

 We request this information is formatted with Excel or a simple flowchart to enhance comprehension.

 We have tried every which way but Sunday to unearth information which will allow us to understand the character of the management structure we have in our district. We are routinely told declining enrollment demands we cut expertise from every area of our district except of course the realm of those who manage the dwindling numbers of employees, services and programs. No matter how we ask, we seem to get details which fail to seriously allow us to analyse the situation. In response to this motion in its original form (asking for info back to 1996), the senior staff assured us there was absolutely no means to unearth the flickering Sanskrit, rune-like symbols which recorded these arrangements.

After all – only world class museums and paleontology departments of large universities could be expected to warehouse material from such distant and inaccessible times.

How can we make decisions to streamline or restructure if we don’t know how many managers we have, what they do and how many we truly need based on precedent and past practice? It is quite the dilemma since all information must come from the very people we wish to at least consider culling to achieve some savings. They can tell us in a scary heartbeat how many teachers we must excise from the schools; how many hours of work we can remove from clerical or custodial service; how many tradesmen can be plucked from regular maintenance and plopped down in non structural seismic which comes from ministry funding for seismic work  rather than our core grant.

They can do this without even breaking a sweat.

However, get them to honestly appraise their own positions or even provide a means for trustees to do this and you are on very slippery ground.

Why can’t we know??? Perhaps the data will unequivocally support the notion we have just the right number of senior staff and we can relax and focus on the downward spiral of our kids learning opportunities. What bliss…

This particular request may allow us to review the situation in the shadow of previous years- years which included more students and more employees. We would then be self referencing rather than checking ourselves against other districts which may be in the same tight spot and pondering the same cuts – if they are unable to shape their admin structure for the same damn reasons we can’t then why would we care how our arrangement compares to theirs.

It is moved:

The Board of Education SD 79 directs senior staff to provide the Budget Committee 2010/2011 with the net savings achieved in the last budget from the following areas for the next Budget Committee meeting:

  •  Bussing
  • Custodial
  • Technology
  • Partners in Learning
  • BCeSIS
  • Intensive Behaviour
  • Alternate Education Program
  • Adult Education
  • 5 Day District Closure

  I hope you recall the last budget – we made deep cuts to a number of district programs and services. I would not blame you if you had suppressed the memory as I sometimes wish I could. We were regaled with the magic sums we would be saving thanks to the wand work of our senior staff. If you voted for these cuts, you did so believing they would produce a harvest of future revenue as we carefully sculpt and shape our expenditures to suit the new modern ministry in all its glory.

Before we take further steps along the path of vandalizing our classrooms in the name of clockwork orange book keeping, it may be a good time to review the last round of cuts and the manna which flowed from those decisions.

You may recall the 20% cut to bussing which yielded safety concerns and communication confusions galore. We have no solid information apart from the anecdotal which will allow us to evaluate how the cuts have affected our kids and staff or how successful we have been at even realising the savings promised from all this mayhem.

There has to be recognition of the concepts ‘net savings’ and ‘false economy’ – two items which are clearly interconnected.

Net savings should account for:

  • Loss of enrollment and associated loss of funding due to deteriorated or vanishing services and programs
  • Costs of all mitigating activities to address the lost programs, resources or personnel
  • Inevitable expense of large scale replacement and repair to our facilities which are neglected due to reduced custodial and maintenance budgets
  • Costs of labour management disputes arising from collective agreements language in this high pressure climate of cutting

I sometimes wonder if the point of all of this is not even to achieve savings but simply to engineer year after year of damage regardless of the reality of the cuts. Savings should endow reserves; cuts should deliver relief. But they never do. Victoria just moves the goalposts and every year is another opportunity to frustrate the system. Pretty efficient of them when you think about it – they haven’t even sat in the Leg for 256 days and they can still screw up our schools.

Talk about phoning in your performance.

Planning is the hall mark of intelligence. It is what separates us from the animals (that and watching Celebrity Apprentice). But this government seems bound to compel us to operate like survivors in a bad science fiction novel – ever just barely making it through the latest scavenger hunt.

I believe our senior staff has the skills to chart a good path for our schools – but the ideology of the folks in Victoria renders their capacities irrelevant.

We tender these motions in a meeting like this  one as a laughable response to dealing with the outright extremism of the government. I often feel like we are bringing a whoopee cushion to an Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Just a quick tribute to the events in Egypt which we all witnessed – most of us-  with hearts full of the human understanding and appreciation for justice and courage.

May that example give us pause when we waiver in our responsibilities due to fear or cynicism.

Howard Zinn wrote long ago: “The struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervour, determination, unity, organisation, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience.”

Your Trustee Pal,

Eden

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