Diary of a Mad Trustee Open Board Meeting February 16th 2011

 

Our Trustee Eden

Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

 

EVERYTHING NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSORY

                                                                                                       -T.H. White – The Once and Future King

 

I love a good meeting theme – many future opportunities for musical theatre or a ride at Universal Studios. Tonight we enter the ‘Control Room’. Goggles are recommended as well as a unitard for comfort and safety. It is a marvel though – watching as even the most petty and limited authority is used to its outside extreme.

If you had received my email welcoming you to observe the presentation of a report from the Environmental Law Clinic on the provincial climate change legislation as it relates to school bussing cuts you would have been disappointed by now.

The Community Alliance for Public Education applied to the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria last fall through their intern program for the services of a graduating lawyer to prepare a legal opinion on the potential reductions of bussing by school boards in districts across the province as it relates to existing environmental legislation.

School District #79 Cowichan was drawn on as a case study.

The law student and her supervising professor requested delegation status to present the substance of their final report and its recommendations to the Board of Education in Cowichan. They were denied but rerouted to the Sustainability Committee. A bit disappointing and sanity challenged considering the topic but what the hell – the report could at least reach a few trustees and a smattering of community members.

That opportunity was revoked – seems the board frowns on the organisation which commissioned the report and objected to the possible presence of members of the public at the meeting. I have no idea what they thought might transpire but their imaginations are clearly more developed than mine.

The backgrounder as well as the full report and recommendations can be found at – http://capeincowichan.bc.ca/2011/02/20/school-bussing-enviromental-impact/

Enjoy – I know I do.

However, the board was on a roll.

Censoring public material, screening community inquiry, terminating committee work, preventing gatherings just to give the widest possible scope for control becomes -I think -a bit addictive. So much so, it is hard to stop.

Bewilderingly, a Transportation Safety Review has been abruptly halted at the board table without rationale and without completing its critical mandate – we have plenty to talk about but we will have to do that ex officio from here on in if the board gets its way. As a board we should be anxious if not bloody panic stricken to at least be seen looking at the safety impacts of reduced bussing and increased numbers of kids walking and being driven in private vehicles – but the opportunity has been terminated for now on the wrongheaded basis we have finished our work which we certainly have not.

I suppose it is unwise to encourage our families to expect a careful appraisal of the circumstances our kids meet up with getting to and from school when we are already contemplating further cuts to bussing. The two million dollars which the province ponies up within the formula for our operating grant towards transportation makes a very tasty object of desire when committing ourselves to further cuts in the current budget process.

We had a delicate discussion about the conditions which must prevail if  trustees wish to bring motions – the long and the short is the majority want to bring motions as and when but impose rules of engagement for the rest of us.

This is just plain silly, as parliamentary procedures do not wade in very much on this. Motions can and should be introduced in a variety of ways – submitted to the agenda ahead of time, tendered at the top of the meeting, added later as emerging from discussion. How can this be a problem since anyone at the table is free to refer any motion about which they feel uncomfortable making a decision? Sending motions into the Phantom Zone is truly one of the few amusements we have left. I think it is the very best part of any meeting as trustees are shirtily reminded debate is limited to the rationale for referral. It certainly concentrates the mind.

Bringing motions is the norm at any board table. Trustees must be fleet of foot if we are to do our jobs well. Truly – motions are the language of trustees – the only real way we can initiate discussion, build rationales for change or improve the way we do things.

Attempting to tighten the grip on introducing motions or recommendations or resolutions or whatever you want to call them is one step away from slapping a nice measure of duct tape over our mouths. Alluring for some I am sure but if the troublesome trustees were to insist on consistency for all in the application of restrictions, there will be 9 gagged trustees at the table and the silence – golden as it may be for some – will be deafening.

We might as well just head for the coffee shop. Luckily, we settled for a gentle and unnecessary caution recommending trustees should when possible place motions forward in good time.

I think we all have generally operated this way. This board has come a long way from just being a convenience for the unelected. The drive to shape the discussions and decisions through the dynamism of resolutions from the elected ones is worth fighting for.

Some of us continue to do so.

 After being charged with the job of designing a consultation process by trustees at a board meeting last fall, the Education Committee submitted questions meant to guide the consultation with community regarding a new high school to replace Cowichan High.

In committee, we hammered out some rather pertinent and searching questions. However, as soon as these questions arrived at the board table to be approved for release to the Communications Committee, three of the questions were deemed inappropriate as being suggestive of a line of inquiry which would lead to a richer conversation about the priorities of our communities, their concerns about the rest of the district schools and the fate of the large property on which the current high school sits.

It is undesirable evidently to allow the discussion to range beyond the firm insistence on an already established set of decisions long ago confirmed without ever asking anyone. Holy Handgranades I thought we were interested in what everyone had to say. The questions developed in committee are below and the forbidden questions are numbers 1, 6 and 7.

  1. Do you feel this is a priority: for the community, for the district, for the province, other?
  2. Whom do we want to serve with the new school?
  3. Whom do we need to talk to before, during and after the consultation process?
  4. What services/programs do we want to provide?
  5. What kind of teaching and learning models should we consider?
  6. How do you feel the building of this new school will affect the rest of the district?
  7. What would you like to see done with the current Cowichan Secondary School site?
  8. What kinds of community partnerships would you consider?
  9. What should the facility include?

 

Of course the questions are only a smidgen of the matter – the Education Committee has been asked to” develop a plan for a community consultation process regarding the eventual replacement of Cowichan Secondary School”. This effort should build into it the most inclusive methods possible.

It may in fact be best if we ask our community now what they would like to address during this process as part of the steps we take along this road instead of framing the discussion beforehand with our carefully designed set of permitted questions.

Denying anyone their right to reflect on and assess the most intricate elements of our community approach to building a new school in the district is unlikely to produce the deep and unrestricted dialogue I hope we want.

We have recently been told(again) the trustee presence in our schools is a matter of controversy – trustees as employers are apparently expected to seek permission and outline the details and purpose before venturing into the building. I wonder how many employers would be happy to follow the same protocols when they wish to visit their work sites.

Truly odd to be met with such demands when the schools are our bailiwick and the places we are expected to be not just as employers but primarily as elected representatives of the workforce and the families in our community. And that includes all of us.

We must inhabit our schools – each trustee -I hope you know- is assigned a number of school and district sites as their responsibility. Without this engagement, we would be blind and deaf to the demands and conditions in these places. It is something most of us do in our not so copious free time. I can’t speak for everyone but I live for my visits and know it is my pleasure as well as my obligation. Not very gratifying to find a dismissive and ungrateful letter of complaint in your email from senior staff just for doing your job. Makes you feel like a 17 year old who just got out on parole – which I imagine is the intent.

 However, anytime we are in the school, control can be difficult to maintain – employees and parents are eager to talk, to question and to inform. If I want a snotty note, I can get my fill of such things from my bank, my insurance company or my therapist.

Well – there has to be an exception to every rule and tonight this was fulfilled by a frank and distressing report from our Student Support Services Director. As you may know, a motion was passed at the Budget Committee and confirmed by the board to “investigate the feasibility of providing additional special education assessment that would lead to additional revenue generation as soon as possible”.

This led to a response which was enlightening and confirmed what we have all been told for years. From parents to principals to teachers to outside agencies – the truth is when we assess a child to determine if they have a specific challenge which impedes learning and may require additional services, we trigger the obligation for delivering those services but do not receive the resources from the ministry to realistically provide them.

 Some of our children when assessed generate no further funding as is the case with some learning and behavioural disabilities .I suppose it comforts the family , the child and the classroom teacher to gain an understanding of the problem but in many cases the money is missing. Therefore – we were told –stepping up assessments with revenue generation as even a partial goal is not practical.

 In addition – assessments themselves are time consuming and labourious – removing skilled people from the process of providing for the kids who are already struggling with confirmed difficulties. And for good measure, our kind hearted ministry operating from a position of genial cooperation will if they detect an unexplained increase in the numbers of kids with designations, swoop down in audit mode and make us all wish our bottoms had never been born. 

So there it is…feasibility in the age of madness where the most needy and distressed, the families who deserve our best and most human heart can bloody well  just suffer on because we have to fuss about misers in Victoria and their flying monkey squad. We have the expertise and the will to make every child’s world a better one- right here and right now. Frankly, I am amazed at the patience and forbearance the parents of kids with physical, behavioural, academic and psychological challenges always demonstrate. As for the professionals who inhabit our schools – they must shake their heads in wonder at the priorities expressed in every budget as we machete our way through that particular control project.

So that is the tale of the Control Room for now. We may observe- as it is with parenting, with love and with politics- the more you grasp for domination the less influence you have. The board has too much of significance to occupy it to allow any time wasting in the pursuit of supreme authority over everyone who is responding to the crisis in the manner they find appropriate.

I suppose I must admit the Ministry of Education sets a very poor example for our impressionable school boards who could be forgiven for following that lead in trying to prevent any riposte to the assault on our children. I understand the inclination to just lie still and wait for it all to be over but we would lie still for a very long time.

If we wish to control anyone with our majority,  it should be the extreme elements in government.

Our job as trustees is not to act as suppression fire for all efforts to end the cutbacks in our schools; our job as trustees as to present the pointy end of community and employee indignation ,desperation and outrage as vocally and as effectively as we can …while we can.

Your Trustee Pal

Eden

 

I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be. — Thomas Jefferson

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