Diary of a Mad Trustee Open Board Meeting April 6th 2011

 
 
 
 

Our Trustee Eden

 

Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

     Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

 

Good Evening Fellow Earthlings

As I have become fond of saying – this night’s meeting hit bottom and then broke through to a bottom we previously knew nothing about. I have said this before which really makes me wonder if there is a bottom. I will let know if I ever find it.

Here goes – there were quite a few stories in the naked city this night.

I did enjoy all the outrage over the rather insightful editorial and article in the Citizen regarding the fate of our small secondary schools- i.e. Chemainus and Lake Cowichan. I mean really …how can we expect to peacefully smother these places by withdrawing resources and driving students into other communities to secure their learning needs if people are going to accurately interpret these activities. The chutzpah of it. And of course if the underground murmur of a new high school in Duncan which will knock the socks off anything poor little Chemainus or Lake Cowichan have to offer does not suggest a direction any vaguely attentive being could unearth I can’t imagine what further hints people might need.

Of course, when the process of putting together a consultation plan to finally talk to our families about their views on this new High School was being developed in a board committee, we carefully established a set of questions to allow a full dialogue.

One question actually addressed this – How do you feel the building of this new school will affect the rest of the district?

Obviously, community members are thinking about this and have a few concerns about their own small towns and the services they would like to cling to so those places remain viable.

The question was hastily removed from the list by the board on the rationale we had no need to entertain these reservations as the story is already written. The consultation will centre no doubt on a variety of program or design issues which will never speak to the underlying goals our district should have for a holistic accessible school system. We are committed to this path and in the meantime, our small secondary schools suffer when they deserve our support. If the province can’t see this and fund accordingly, we must make them see. Of course it should be pointed out – our province has not even seen fit to borrow the money for the property the new high school may someday occupy (this district now carries that debt – $6 million for the land and another $1 million for our share of an infrastructure we will not use for many years if ever) so their commitment is hard to calculate without the use of a micrometer.

The intrepid reporter noted the deep concerns of the staff at Chemainus High School in a letter they tendered to the board. This- combined with the budget draft piece which aims to remove another block of electives due to staffing reductions- gave voice to the very real and entirely legitimate fears staff and families are nursing. The result – a letter to the paper from the board in high dudgeon denying any ill intent to our little high schools -full of injury anyone would suggest we are not their biggest fans.

According to the ‘impact considerations’ document from our March 2nd  budget meeting, this particular proposed cut to the small secondary schools(Chemainus and LCSS) carries the following note :

  • Reduced elective choice
  • Larger class size in core to maintain elective choice
  • Possible larger class size in core to preserve an elective
  • Removes ability to offer course to attract students,
  • Another reason for kids to migrate to larger schools

 

This does not sound very supportive to me anyway. Further, we are not done yet. Senior admin has promised more budget cuts to our schools next year and the year after- on to infinity. My guess is physics or gravity or Boyles Law (air like money is essential to life) will take over and these schools will evaporate under the weight of these cuts. Therefore, no one including the press was jumping the gun or creating panic and alarm as a hobby – they were just being observant.

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As promised at the March 2nd board meeting, a motion to seek a reduction in trustee numbers appeared and passed despite the many letters from partner groups, PACs and even an MLA opposing any scheme to quiet us down. We were informed it is all about money and a dear desire to fall in line with other districts. Evidently, the sorry sum we will save by reducing our elected positions will satisfy the appetite a few parents have to see our ‘top heavy management structure’ decrease.

If this is about money, it isn’t about much money. We were dramatically informed the yearly salaries of two trustees could translate into part of an EA -they did not mention which part but my imagination ran away with me. Part of an EA! This will come in handy next year when we want to cut part of an EA.

Districts in BC generally have 5, 7 or 9 trustees and certainly some but not all of the biggest have 9 because that is the maximum. However – it is just a numbers game and though we now have the same number of trustees as Nanaimo or Victoria or Vancouver if we are reduced to 7, we will join the ranks of such districts as SD 53/Okanagan Similkemeen which has 2500 students to our 8000. I do not understand the real value of ‘falling into line’ with another district whose culture may not resemble ours especially as our example of having 9 trustees should be viewed as commendable and something to strive for – why would anyone want to level down unless it was your golf score.

As to our contribution to a ‘top heavy management structure’, strictly speaking trustees are not administrators. We are elected representatives and we are here because previous generations fought hard to have us here.

I would imagine people in the Middle East, dreaming of participating in the decisions which affect their lives and hoping to choose those they trust to work with them to make this happen, would think we have all lost our tiny minds tossing this hard won entitlement back like garbage over the price of a cheap car.

For the information of those who see us as the great Satan of wasted resources – the whole board, the whole 9 trustees cop $93,000 out of the nearly $1.5 million paid to all 26 managers including us. If you are on the trail of the big money, you may have to take on bigger game. But I won’t hold my breath. That implies a quite different ideology.

I do think we have some players who are anxious to see the province rewarded for slashing our schools back to the Stone Age by serving up some of the voices who noisily speak against this campaign of rubbishing our public education system. Of course, with a board election looming, it is critical to keep the possibilities as narrow as possible – we really don’t need any more riff raff at the table, do we?

This board is in its final months and none of us ever ran on thinning community voice. We really don’t have the mandate at this point to drive forward with such an extreme revision. Sadly – the divide is hard to bridge when some trustees see their role as smoothing the way for the plans senior staff and their employers n Victoria have for our district while others believe they are community representatives sworn  to fight for our schools first and foremost.

 And never the twain shall meet…

It is all rather silly and percolates with hypocrisy and insincerity. By a 5 to 4 vote, the slim majority seeks to close the subscription on participation in the election process but perhaps in the end they may find our communities will be wiser and more discerning than the District Parent Advisory Council who along with one trustee now stand as the chief proponents of this bizarre enterprise.

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If you have opened your email lately, you will have received an invite to complete a survey regarding the 5 day cancellation of classes intended to save the district $300,000 on the backs of some employees and our students and their families. If you are like many of the people I have spoken to –both in favour and opposed- you will have filled it out four times, had your kids and your pets do the same not to mention any visiting relatives or parcel delivery people who happen to come to your door. Then when you get the survey on several other computers in your possession, you will do the same thing all over again.

 I fully expect we shall have something in the range of three quarters of a million completed surveys by the time this is over which will be hard to explain but will demonstrate a fantastic upsurge in community interest not to mention the population in the valley.

Whatever happens this will have been an entirely unreliable and shoddy means to encourage comment on a profound matter. To boot – the board itself had no hand in the design of this process and until a very cute person in the gallery innocently asked about the survey during the question period at the end of this meeting we had no idea it was in the can and due to be launched the very next day. Evidently, the cute person found out about this survey from a principal who of course had been told in advance as a courtesy.

 I would like to think trustees would have established some ground rules to eliminate some of the comic features of this outreach but alas, we were not given the chance. And certainly, we were not viewed as deserving of the same courtesy.

Of course and quite rightly I suppose we as trustees  wear it anyway which should teach us a lesson about  the terminal disrespect elected folks receive from the bureaucrats who are supposed to toil under our direction. If it was not such a deliberate manipulation as well as bringing disrepute on board efforts to seek your views, it would be howlingly funny. Oh, what the hell- it’s funny anyway.

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We are, as I hope you know, now in the darkest part of the budget forest. Our Budget Committee which includes all partner groups – unions, parents, aboriginal organisation, students, principals/ vice principals and senior staff as well as all trustees- has as a final act recommended our board submit a ‘no cuts budget’ for the 2011/2012 school year. You may be wondering where the parallel needs budget or ‘Student Success Budget’  has gotten to since we have put one of those together two years running.

The progressive trustees along with their colleagues (employee groups and the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council) decided this was a worthy strategy to more simply frame the situation the district now endures. The cuts must stop and since it is clear the cuts are not tied to any genuine  austerity or inefficiency ,this year more than ever ‘no cuts’ makes sense. After all – as ‘funding protection’ bestows the same operating revenue as last year regardless of any drop in enrollment, it makes sense we should not have to make any further cuts. But we do have to make cuts to the tune of $1.4 million and then some.

Translation – the province consistently fails to meet the costs of running our district as follows: inflation, labour settlement increases as well as rises in MSP payments and other benefit costs, actual costs of provincial initiatives, mandates and legislation (e.g. BCeSIS, Bill 33), real price tag of delivering special needs services, true costs of maintenance, custodial and transportation needs.

So – the cuts are necessary to pay the ministry’s tab for these items. It is their round and they disappeared into the toilets to avoid ponying up. In the past, the board has been able to comfort itself with the ‘Student Success Budget’ – the sentimental favourite of all trustees despite the misfortune of the budget we submit which carves up our services. Everyone loves the ‘Student Success Budget’ – the wistful ‘dream of never’ which falsely nurtures the notion we are actually doing something when we tell the ministry what they already know – they are not paying for the real costs in our public schools. Well not this year – this year it is one or it is the other. No beard to hide behind. Either you vote for cuts or you vote for ‘no cuts’. End of…

We have the power – I know trustees sometimes feel they are helpless – far from it. We have the power because you have given it to us. Like a blessing, a promise and a vow. If we used what you have given us, we would soon find out how mighty we all truly are.

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Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The trouble with the world is the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Bertram Russell

There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life.

Frank Zappa

There is no sin except stupidity.

Oscar Wilde

The only way to comprehend what mathematicians mean by Infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity.

Voltaire

Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.

Frank Leahy

Stupidity has a knack of getting its way.

Albert Camus

Your Trustee Pal

Eden

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