Diary of a Mad Trustee Open Board Meeting May 18 2011

Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

Resist the Beginning…Consider the End


Budget 2011/2012 is over and yet as most of you can testify, it is never over when the results are starkly in our faces. Of course, despite all the 4 alarm hysteria, the staffing and other great milestones awaiting the definitive vote go on as if the first draft will be the last anyway.

It has been a many faceted little drama so I have chosen to comment on it through the oft used ruse of Q&A. Of course, I made up the questions and the answers are entirely my views and perhaps no one else’s. Therefore, it is not so much a Q&A as a setup and a rant. However, it is my diary and as you may have noticed, I don’t get my way very often.

Why did the District Budget Committee support a No Cuts Budget?

The whole point of the No Cuts Budget was to honour the mild, obvious but attainable goals in the Strategic Plan this board created last year. That and an appetite to avoid the see -saw last minute attempts to diffuse the bomb about to go off in our classrooms. No agonising over which wire to sever or whether to don a specialised protective suit, using flame and fragmentation-resistant material. No ritual offering up of necessary elements in our schools just to stave off the termination of the crucial. All our employee groups and the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council represented on the district budget committee called for a No Cuts Budget and had the votes to carry this recommendation. Though the board used guile to derail this motion and simply refused to even allow discussion of the proposal at the table during budget where it had been directed, it remains the only truly coherent  tack offered during the weeks leading up to the conclusion of this budget process at the May 18th meeting.

As the statement from the partners said:

“The emphasis of this Strategic Plan is improved learning outcomes for all our students. Yet, the cutback budgets passed by this Board over the last two years undermine staff capacity to support student learning in practical terms. The draft budget cuts on offer from senior staff for this year continue to overturn the laudable principles in our Strategic Plan. This is the time for school boards and their communities to make themselves heard and insist our expectations for public education be answered. This government must immediately begin to reverse cutbacks to public education through increased funding.”

Do we need a Director of Operations?

We do not need more administrative positions and if we did we would really only be able to justify them if we were already supplying learning supports to our kids instead of carving them away. The Director of Operations position was created against the advice of the maintenance employees back in 2008 who clearly understood what they really needed was a foreman. During a long period of higher enrollments and larger building and grounds areas, we got along quite nicely with a Works Supervisor reporting to the board along with custodial and transportation managers.

In the grand tradition of Parkinson’s Law – our admin tends to multiply subordinates to offset their own work load and of course, the more of these people there are the more work they end up creating for each other. Thus, we find our senior staff has expanded despite their own determination to grind down other areas of the workforce in the name of balanced budgets and efficiency. In the case of this particular position – the person filling it was unavoidably absent for very long periods including over much of last year. To adapt to this void, the operations department was restructured and despite the increased demands of the government regarding the use of the Annual Facilities Grant, all deadlines were met. Somehow, I think we have empirical evidence we simply do not need another director. The front line people took up the work and did it well. Right now as we have not yet filled this position, we could realise the full $111,333 without having to endure the lengthy notification period accorded all managers under contract.  

In the Low Report, which was commissioned and completed in 2005, Mr Low observed a need for another admin position as consultants often do. But in addition he supplied a formula by which the district should determine the number of tradespersons needed to effectively complete the maintenance of our buildings – by his formula we are short at least 8 positions(12 if you include the 4 trades people now in non structural seismic). Funny how his counsel on hiring a pricey senior manager was followed enthusiastically while his advice regarding an increase of trades positions went unheeded.

Do we need a Vice Principal for the International Program?

Oh Brother – this one is a real pip.

We already have a full time principal for this program and the 85 kids (give or take – I have received a different figure every time I have asked but the actual FTE numbers remain somewhat vague) are spread throughout our district in schools which of course also have their own principals and in many cases vice principals.

 However, some of our senior staff as well as a few trustees are convinced this program will keep the wolf from the door if only we are willing to invest in it. I am not. This is a very unreliable revenue source and we have in fact built our balanced budget this year on projections for increased clientele from afar. It is a matter of some discomfort for some of us who believe only public revenue generated in a spirit of optimal support for all children in our province can supply equitable education opportunities for all districts.

Intriguingly we have been unwilling to fund from our core revenue, a District Aboriginal Principal despite this being a position which oversees the provision of core learning opportunities for the 1400 native students who by the way bring in around 12 million dollars a year if you combine general revenue from the province with the targeted 1-31 funds they also generate.

 However, we are very anxious indeed to cater to kids from abroad with tutors, summer programs and other services our own kids do not enjoy. I do believe the presence in our midst of children from other shores is valuable for us and for our guests but I do not believe they should be here as paying customers. Let the government fund them – let the students be chosen for merit and need not ability to pony up. As to requiring a very expensive Vice Principal (an additional $97,980 combined with admin time already in the pipe) all our kids need more counseling time, more library time and our teachers need smaller classes with fewer unsupported challenges. The profit from each international student once you peel away the endless costs of recruiting and travel and increased special staff is about $3000 but even that does not take into account the core services all students in our schools need from regular teachers to cleaning and maintenance. Moreover, of course, revenue from this program has been on the decline for 2 years in BC– corresponding predictably with the global economic downturn.

If we really want to support our district fiscally, we should be focusing our efforts on programs and services for the kids in this valley and hope we can increase the populations in our schools. We should be building a fierce response to underfunding and standing up to the government rather supplementing our misery in the short term with dodgy propositions.

 It seems very inappropriate to be spending our meagre resources on servicing a tiny section of kids while our students do without. SD 79 is a school district and must devote itself to that very admirable project part of which is campaigning vigorously for the public funds we need to operate on behalf of our students and employees. We are not in business and if some of the trustees and admin fancy themselves emperors of commerce, they should take this up in their personal lives and live the fantasy there.

What did Specialist Teachers in the areas of Literacy, Numeracy and Technology do before their positions were cut?

As 25% of children in our classrooms are at -risk learners, this is the focus of much of the work of the people who we call specialists in our schools. They support our classroom teachers in meeting some of the varied and extensive challenges in every school in our district. These folks are trained to inspire, guide and assist our teachers and students despite the ominous learning environment brought on by deteriorating resources. They are a conduit through which all our kids can expect equal access to some of the most critical programs and learning opportunities. Now in the final days of the budget they have been removed from the classrooms as we offer up one critical service to hang onto another. In addition, let us be clear – unless things change, anything we may have saved back by expunging these services to kids and teachers will only find its way into the cuts column next year.

What does our Annual Budget Policy #1040 say?


“The District’s annual operating budget shall express in financial terms the Board’s plans by which it seeks to accomplish its objectives, plans, and programs. At suitable intervals during the year the Secretary-Treasurer shall report progress of actual performance against these predetermined objectives, plans, and programs.”

If you have a look at the Annual Budget Policy # 1040, you will notice it stirringly recommends our budgets should allow us to further our plans for the district. I assume our plans include the Strategic Plan we devised over much of last year but perhaps there is an overriding plan we have not been privy to. Nothing would surprise me less.

In addition, the policy calls for regular reports on how the budget is managing to meet the standards we established within our plan. I don’t recall ever reviewing the outcomes of our budgeting habits.

My guess is the plan referred to in the policy is not just a laundry list of fundamentals no school system could do without. Imagine a public education approach which feels the need to outline a plan calling for the absolute minimum goals any normal thinking person would have taken as read.

Under ‘objectives, plans and programs’ in #1040 previous hopeful policy writers would have been forgiven if they worked in the understanding  we would not have to actually detail the following  basic education services as we have in our Strategic Plan:

        Nurturing academic, fine arts, social development, and physical education

        Maintaining current educational choices and opportunities

        Improving transition and graduation rates

        Strengthening curriculum and teaching that reflects the Hwulmuhw language and culture

        Supporting at-risk students and students with special needs

        Support Early Learning opportunities

        Increasing district transportation effectiveness

        Incorporating outreach and technological opportunities

        Enhancing program opportunities for small secondary schools and alternate/adult options

Really – when this policy was written, who might have guessed objectives like these could not be assumed. And if we ever do review our budget practices and how those practices have supported our kids and employees in this district at even the most basic level we are going to be very embarrassed indeed.

Did the budget process meet any of the minimum benchmarks of good governance?

No not even close and considering the extremely low standards I would have measured this by, it should have been a cake walk.

This meeting saw the final budget bylaw passed – hastily completing 2nd and 3rd reading despite efforts to extend the budget process for an extra week. This would have been a small remedy for the total lack of any thoughtful process and an alarming absence of budget work by trustees as a board. This was the first time I experienced no collaborative budget work. From the March 30th Budget Committee meeting until we arrived at a last minute grudgingly bestowed 90 minute working session held the same day as 1st reading on May 11th, there was no budget work apart from our own individual efforts.

There was no discussion of the presentations from our community on May 9th. There was no opportunity for all trustees to go over the budget material together with senior staff. Some of us may have been granted this privilege but not all.

In order for a budget process to reach for inclusion of all those affected by its outcome, the views of our partners must receive some authentic consideration – not just ‘a justice seen to be done/ lets get this over with’ style of work which is exactly what we had from January 26th through to March 30th. We seldom had material in time to reflect and develop discussion and the only views deemed valuable were those of the highest remunerated employee group – the senior staff. The process was not laid out ahead of time so we never really knew what was about to transpire. Information requested was not supplied and in the end – a frustrated majority on the budget committee recommended a no cuts budget and it all went back to the trustees for concluding work. That work never happened–there was not one board session to encourage inquiry or modification to the draft budget.

For all the efforts of our community and their willingness to talk about their concerns, nothing they had to say made one jot of difference to the proceedings. All handled in a dismissive take it or leave it fashion. Things will have to change- those of us who run again will have to commit to something more generous, more -dare I say it- democratic. Budget proceedings are not meant to look like riot control in an East German election.

Did Saanich submit a deficit budget to the Ministry?

Technically Saanich did not pass and submit a budget bylaw. They formulated a budget based on the work of a committee (believe it or not, comprised of 61 staff and parents) created to evaluate programs and impacts in order to restore those services which were considered the most valuable. They also assessed the effectiveness of their spending priorities and established which of those services could be funded strictly from the revenue offered by the government.

What they did do was pull cuts of over $300,000 off the table while including identified services and programs not covered by the operating grant. Thus, the final budget calculation incorporated a shortfall of $2.8 million– ‘approved to include additional grants from the Province in order to restore and support these needs but unaffordable with current government grants’.

You cannot tender a budget bylaw without the collaboration of the secretary treasurer. The Saanich board understandably had no wish to place their secretary treasurer in such a position so instead passed a follow-up motion which directed the board chair to submit their budget plan to the ministry. A balanced budget is legally required by June 30th – obviously, Saanich is hoping to secure some consideration from the ministry, some communication, some acknowledgment before that deadline. I suppose they may file the bylaw – balanced by then but I can only applaud their boldness for at least trying to do better than conducting another grim march to decline.

Some have disputed this deficit budget on those technicalities but in fact, Saanich has done what we have not done. They have imaginatively and with poetic wordsmithing submitted a deficit budget. At least they will now find out what the ministry will do. Our speculations are intended to raise fears about firing and dire consequences. I think it is a theory worth testing. How could anything the ministry does directly be any worse than what they have contrived to do by remote control?

What does the running total for 2 years of cuts budgets mean?

Placing a budget forward which restores some of the programs and services will without doubt require an act of fierce demand from boards – and a rebellion against the self serving section of the School Act which commands trustees to submit a budget wherein estimated expenditures do not exceed estimated revenues. Of all the levels of government in this era of selective austerity, school boards  are alone in the requirement to scrupulously adhere to a balanced budget model at all costs – in this case a terrible deficit in our schools . Good thing the province and the federal government don’t have to balance their budgets – how else could they keep arms salespersons and bankers happy – all our favourite folks no less?

Here is the more comprehensive list we wanted to see added to our budget based on additional grants from the province which includes many of the more frightful cuts from last years deliberations. As you will see it is hard to believe we can go on like this for much longer – even the startling human ability to adapt endlessly is being tested by this annual turkey shoot. This next list combines the 2 years worth of cuts and does not actually include all of them – just the more outstanding ones. After a few very unsuccessful forays into budget revision which would add back services, we decided any further effort would be fruitless in the face of the stubborn refusal by the board majority to consider our options. But, these are the meaningful additions we should have and could have sent on within our budget as Saanich did – ‘approved to include additional grants from the Province in order to restore and support these needs but unaffordable with current government grants’.

2011/2012 Budget Cuts

3.4 FTE Class Size                                                                                   $308,000

District 5 Day Closure                                                                           $322,395

District In- Service                                                                                 $50,000

Supplies                                                                                                    $47,428

Unfunded Liability                                                                                  $100,000

School Based In-service                                                                       $34,000

Learning Resources                                                                               $25,000

Career Supplies                                                                                       $6,500

Transportation                                                                                        $40,000

0.8 FTE Technology Curriculum Coordinator                                  $72,480

1.0FTE Numeracy Specialist                                                                 $90,600

1.0FTE Literacy Specialist                                                                     $90,600


2010/2011 Budget cuts

Bussing                                                                                                      $318,568

District 5 Day Closure                                                                            $267,974

Custodial                                                                                                   $355,355

IBIT                                                                                                             $196,783

Alternate Education                                                                               $289,037

Partners in Learning                                                                              $72,514

Adult Education                                                                                      $67,899

Substance Intervention/Student Counselling                                $35,000

CSS Science Lab Assistant                                                                     $36,597


 It is vital we never allow past cuts to achieve invisibility; it is our job to ever keep these confiscated services and programs part of our shared anguish and never accept as inevitable their continued absence. Not easy as the years pass and further incursions are upper most in our minds as we fight to stop the bleeding. Every one of these cuts listed above has damaged or demeaned our classrooms, our schools, our public assets.

Are School Trustees life long learners?

As I have said – I always believed boards would reach a tipping point- a final line in the sand they would not cross. At least a few trustees have absorbed this sorry lesson. A few more would be useful. Even a dog learns to  pee outside if he gets a good bop on the nose but trustees seem to be constructed of different cloth. We accept with tears the self proclaimed inevitability of public education decline as if no one could ever envision any other way. By now, we should have learned we are only doing what will exacerbate and perpetuate this situation. The ministry is responsible for contriving this outrage against our kids but we are responsible for doing nothing about it that matters. Every year we willfully slip on blinkers and hope for better days as we walk hand in hand with those who do not have the best interests of our kids, families and our employees in their minds or their actions. It is a good thing most kids can learn from their lessons because we simply cannot. Every reduction in service we squire along has built in a commensurate dive in enrollment and frankly, I believe this is exactly what is intended by the government’s confiscation of public school resources to the tune of at least $3 billion provincially in the last ten years.

In commenting on the useful cost cutting effects of abolishing class size and composition language from the teachers’ collective agreement back in 2002, a ministry document stated:

“It is assumed that the largest opportunity for savings will come from school boards taking advantage of the opportunity to increase class sizes and reduce non-enrolling teacher positions.”

We should learn who our allies are; who our enemies are and more to the point we should have long since learned the ministry sees us as a tool of their ideology when our only real job is fighting for our schools.

At the very least we should want to get our own back for being used so cruelly in this cold blooded enterprise.


It seems fitting- as we slouch away from all this- to pay tribute to Gilbert Scott-Heron (April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011) with a piece of his famous poem from his 1970 album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox


You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

 The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

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