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



Our Trustee Eden


Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

Resist the Beginning…Consider the End


The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting – Milan Kundera


There must have been a time in the human chronicle we could remember details for more than a nano second. Honestly – give anyone 6 months and our overseers can completely obscure even the most well understood facts surrounding any given situation. I frankly think it is because everyone is so busy taking on the next load of old bollocks no one can successfully recall anything more than a few days in the past. Good thing we have every email and phone call being recorded by the special black ops unit – there will be an account of our foibles even if we have long since forgotten them.

You remember 2009 – Michael Jackson died, Bernie Madoff was arrested for wearing white after Labour Day, Sully landed an Airbus on the Hudson, swine flu pandemic, Obama was inaugurated, Eminem was teabagged by Borat at the MTV Music Awards.

Yet many people in this district have drawn a blank on the 2009 initiative from the board admin to balance the budget by shutting our schools down for an extra 5 days. At the time – we all understood this was meant to save us $268,000 and its sole purpose was to do just that. Somehow, just as the doctored photo of Hitler kicking the winning goal in the World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 could rewrite history, some members of our school community have become persuaded this is all about wellness and the savings is a serendipitous windfall.

Well it is not now nor has it ever been about wellness. In fact, if we truly wished wellness on our employees we would stop rolling over and agreeing to these cutthroat budgets. Hilarious to create an untenable situation and then claim to be solving it by using our instruction time like an ATM machine.

Ah yes 2009…at the same time we were removing this week of instruction the board was also eliminating 18 full time teaching positions and 5 full time EA positions . Yes – it was part of the cuts not some reward for a job well done.

We should be talking about this loss of teaching time now in its third year but except for the odd whinge in a Budget Committee meeting audible only to dogs we would not have been doing so but for the unavoidable absence of one trustee at this meeting. Had she been there, the motion to consider the ‘alternate’ calendar would have passed with only a bleat and the 5 day closure for 2012 would have been sealed in the living rock for another year. But the motion failed …everything at our board table is on a knife edge these days and this time the majority had lost their majority.

From the beginning, this budget initiative has sought to create a wedge between our partners just when unanimity is most needed. It tends- if not dealt with well- to pit employee groups against each other and to magnify the divide between those families who have plenty and those who survive week to week.

This is a budget as well as a philosophical issue which can lever a debate around underfunding and inequity of opportunity. With so many of our families in crisis, it is unwise (understatement – noted) to download the funding shortfall from province to district to community while failing to provide the mandated service. Ever wonder what the full cost accounting would reveal about this move – calculate the costs of extra daycare, lost wages for our families and lets see how this all works out in a more holistic world. I believe the outlay of thousands of dollars of contracted salaries without the attendant instruction and management time represents an expense we cannot responsibly afford to overlook as we celebrate the clawback from one section of our workforce.

The exhaustion many of our teachers experience which has been exacerbated over the last decade is a direct consequence of the endless cuts to our programs, our services and our ability to resource our classrooms. Clearly, anyone who voted for these cuts was voting for the harm they would inevitably do. If they are cheerfully standing behind the lost week of school as a sop to this they are welcome to it. Oddly enough the same people who have supported the cuts to IBIT, alternate education programs, libraries, counseling and our services like cleaning and bussing are the same who bestowed the week off as a $268,000 bite out of the budget shortfall.

I would love to support a community discussion which concluded with increased leisure time for all those who work and learn in our schools. However – I have to say – in order for this to be acceptable, it would have to be within the embrace of a fully funded system founded on rationales of well being rather than stark economic forces.

In addition, I would never be in favour of such a change if some of our staff and families were more adversely impacted than others. The savings we access from this cut are the direct result of a loss of income for some of the hardest working and lowest paid workers in our system. I would be very surprised if all the employees who now enjoy the week off with pay would be as inclined to favour it if they saw a loss of income as well. This of course includes our teachers and our administration.

Though affluent families who perhaps can bear the costs of extra day care or afford to lose time from their work appreciate the extra time they have for vacations and relaxation, for  many of our students and their families  (1 in 5 of our kids live in households which are poor) this week represents a great burden. For these students, school is a home away from home – where they receive meals and warmth and supervision – it is those children who miss the time most.

Of course, there will always be diversity of views regarding any of our decisions but in this case, anecdotal contentment from some can be matched by deep unhappiness from others. If a handful of parents agree with it, does this mean it is right? The ones who don’t are not among the most vocal nor are they as likely to see their views revered in quite the same way. I do not vote for cuts – in this climate the trustees with whom I do vote seek to address the ongoing deterioration to our classrooms which has created such a sorry situation for our teachers and support workers. One week will not undo the strain of those conditions – we would all be better off fighting for full funding so we can creatively align our school calendar in a positive way rather than a reaction to destructive and extreme fiscal policies . As to being a panacea for the pressures alive in our classrooms – I would guess for the CUPE EA’s and secretaries  who lose the weeks pay, there is an extra element of stress from wondering how they will pay their bills – not very relaxing for those folks anyway.

And now, a word from the good people of Pearson – “Where there is a Public Pocket to be Picked – We will Pick it”


“With great pleasure, Pearson announces today the acquisition of The Administrative Assistants Ltd. (aal). This acquisition extends Pearson’s current student information system (SIS) market research and leadership to over 15 million students, and will provide increased international market opportunity for Pearson’s K-12 technology platform.”

Well I am thrilled for Pearson – – what serves them must surely be good for our public schools and our employees. It really makes you doubt the whole concept of karma when a company which has thus captured us in this grip has offered so little to justify its grandiose position in the world.

It is a matter of highest comedy- the new owners of the system we have been stumbling over for six years are losing interest and will not be beefing up this product as a matter of obligation to their customers. Despite claims to the contrary – SD79 was not required to yield to the government pressure to junk perfectly effective data collection software and accept the Guilded Age of  pointless expenditure. In fact, though out of the 60 school districts, 56 are using BCeSIS, Delta, Vernon, Campbell River and Okanagan-Shuswap are not.

It is so five years ago – BCeSIS- and it is apparently time to move on. Of course – we can look forward to the same excellent service and outstanding accountability from Pearson regardless of their dimming ardour for this particular bit of data devilment. Well –  at least we can hope for a price to keep the thing going or even better we can drop this version and invest in their inevitable replacement software.

Evidently, the crisis with BCeSIS is not only the software but the whole concept, which sees BCeSIS connected to centralised servers all accessed through PLN, the government’s provincial learning network.

It came as a surprise to the gurus of complicated data documentation that as more and more districts and the schools in them came on line, the network through which they had to access the central server became congested because teachers tend to access the system at the same time of year and the same time of day.

Clearly some of the issues could be resolved by simply not demanding all data be uploaded to the centralised servers. If a district can provide for a grade book, attendance and school timetabling locally while uploading only the data really needed provincially, some of the problems might be solved.

But the ministry is unalterably wedded to a centralised system which has every piece of info imaginable. The big plan is to add more and more to the system so, for example, all IEPs are on BCeSIS. Each time more categories of information as well as more users are added to the system, the server and bandwidth will have to be augmented if BCeSIS is actually going to work for district employees. So who cheaped out on the original infrastructure while districts plowed millions of precious education dollars into a replacement for technology which was really working just fine?

For those of us who treasure the public character of our education system – it can be a terrible blow to our naivety. For a whole host of textbook and test materials providers, technology merchants and specialty educational programs sales folk, our system is a source of huge private revenue. BCeSIS is just one outstanding example. Sometimes I think the only real value public services have for the business community is the deep well of funds available through poorly understood and monitored processes. Makes you want to ask – how much of our public education dollars are devoted to the financial bottom lines of huge corporate interests rather than the necessities of learning for our kids. We certainly have to take their word when we are urged to splash out on their wares – all strictly necessary of course and beyond any useful scrutiny.

But we must laugh to avoid weeping so check out this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PA4Vrpd5qA

Our next Budget Committee meeting is March 30th in the Board Room at 10 am. Open of course to anyone who wishes to wander in and we sure could use the company. On that day, we will receive the senior staff’s new draft of the budget cuts in light of the funding announcement from the ministry. We can hope the submissions from our partner groups will be reflected in this document but in all the years I have sat at the table I have never seen the views of teachers, support workers or minority trustees echoed in the budget.

Year after year, we ask the community to stand with us and it has to be admitted year after year to the undiscerning it must seem a futile gesture. But it isn’t –as I find myself repeating through each challenge – we will ultimately prevail one defeat at a time and that is not just a bit of self deprecating attempted humour.

It happens to be true.

Your Trustee Pal


The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free. – Baruch Spinoza

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