Diary of a Mad Trustee September 21st 2011 Open Board Meeting


Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice
Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

Our board has illuminated 2 areas of school district function- emergency preparedness and carbon offsets- and taken some steps to better the situation. Just letters mind you but I love a good letter- so civilised and yet so entirely ignorable (not necessarily a word). However, short of pulling up with a well motivated angry mob behind us where else can we start? It is good news when boards speak out at all about anything that matters.

Let’s see… 

 Nothing is easy and the road is never straight.

In April  2010 which seems a very long time ago because it is, a motion was brought to our school board table which sought to establish a price tag for the costs of keeping our schools prepared for calamity particularly earthquake. Rather than leave the responsibility for paying for emergency resources and preparation to our families through PAC fundraising efforts as it now is, the motion was intended to insist the provincial government absorb the costs.

There was sound reasoning behind this besides acknowledging the sheer absurdity of asking our families to pay for something which is certainly the responsibility of government. We as a board must guarantee our kids and employees in all schools in the district have the same high quality means to meet the misfortunes we hope will not arrive. Since some school communities are more blessed with wealth than others, it is clear some of our children will be safer and better cared for than others will be in the event of a disaster like an earthquake.

It took a bit of nannying. However, thanks to staff and tenacious trustees, we have finally posted a letter to the ministry. The letter explains rather poetically in the event of earthquake we must be at the ready to care for over 8000 students for ‘an extended period of time’ particularly in light of the high incidence of seismic activity in this area of the world including a recent 6.4 magnitude event.

In this letter, we also make clear our PACS have dutifully soldiered on providing emergency kits and other supplies as best they can. However, this is an ongoing burden and some of these supplies need replenishing regularly. The district has estimated it will cost $160,000 to bring all our sites up to acceptable standards of preparedness with an additional $20,000 a year to replace food and water stores. In this time of rapidly dwindling public education funds, we cannot redirect money for our classrooms to this worthy enterprise – and no responsible person wants to choose between day to day learning needs and vigilance for all our kids and employees if the worst happens.

Our letter is spot on and we anxiously await the minister’s response. Any guesses?? Until otherwise informed, I will continue to believe the government will grasp the merit of this request. It is in the direct interests of equal access to services and safety and a modest sum to help ensure the well being of our kids and the staff in our schools.

Of course we need to be thinking about this for our homes and the CVRD has an excellent  publication you can download at this link or pick up at their offices next to the post office in Duncan.

http://www.cvrd.bc.ca/DocumentView.aspx?DID=890

Next letter from our board…

Since the spring, Trustees across our province have been aware of an interesting extension of becoming signatory to the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Charter. One previously unexplained development of this commitment to carbon neutrality is the requirement for school boards to buy offsets at the rate of $25 per tonne for any green house gas (GHG) emissions we produce above zero levels.

These charges are turned over to the Pacific Carbon Trust which is owned by our provincial government under the responsibility of the Minister of Finance. For reasons left unexplained, private emitters of GHG do not have to purchase these offsets.

In this district, we have thus far submitted over $111,000 to PCT despite our best efforts to meet our obligations for reducing our carbon footprint. Of course, we might be able to do a better job of managing our emissions if we had the funding to improve our facilities and our methods. Instead, we pay a fine to a body which is a government owned corporation.

Interestingly school districts like ours receive no recognition for our considerable contribution to the carbon well being of our communities by virtue of our large and effective school  bussing system.

Now if this money – remember it comes out of the revenue we receive from our provincial government to operate our schools -went into a pool meant to ensure the improvements for our buildings which might raise their environmental soundness  we could almost nod in agreement but it does not. In fact, some of this extracted cash is handed off to private companies – the outstanding example is EnCana- one of North America’s largest natural gas producers whose initiatives towards reducing their own GHG emissions are subsidised by the money appropriated from school districts.Therefore, a highly profitable company which should do its own due diligence in reducing its environmental impact is doing so with the help of school districts, hospitals and other public sector outfits.

The BCSTA has asked to have this money dedicated to our efforts to achieve the goal of reducing our carbon footprint and the Cowichan board passed a supporting motion which states:

“The Board of Education SD # 79 calls on the provincial government to return all funds currently being appropriated from school districts in BC to purchase carbon credits to support upgrades in our facilities in order to raise their environmental integrity and immediately sends a letter to this effect to the Ministry of Education as well as all school districts.”

Our board has forwarded a letter expressing this sentiment to the Minister as well as all school districts to make our contribution to this discussion and perhaps to a fair and rationale outcome.

Though it is now the norm to pull money out of public needs and hand them off to private interests there is a considerable chorus of resentment across this province. Obviously highly profitable companies like EnCana can raise their own ‘environmental integrity’ without the help of cash strapped public education and health care systems.

If our blessed government is so keen to organise a whip round for its corporate buddies they could just hand them the money directly through tax cuts and credits as per usual without resort to the more unusual and time consuming method of laundering those funds through our school district books.

 

Architectural rendering of Calgary’s skyline featuring “The Bow,” EnCana’s new 58 story office tower, the largest west of Toronto

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The opening scene of the first chapter of the novel ‘Brave New World’ is set at the “Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre”, a sterile factory which produces human beings and prepares them for their future roles in the World State. “Community, Identity, Stability” is the World State’s motto. I bet if the fictional people in this novel had bothered to ask what that was all about they would have gotten the same power point cha cha we have received within the hallowed halls of public education regarding ‘21st Century Learning.’

 I suppose the whizkids who dreamt this up said unto themselves over panini’s – “We will create a cultish program which can be recognised as mysteriously similar to practices already in play, give it all a silly name calculated to intimidate people by sounding terribly modern so no one will want to look like a reactionary and then use it to further cut the crap out of the schools”.

And so they did.

I really think they dropped the ball on the name – so lacking in pizzazz as it is. Maybe the Treasury Board Underdepartment for Linguistic Bafflement has had its tiny budget cut and they can’t perform as required. How about the ‘Farbstein Initiative’? Or ‘Operation Awesome Toupee’? Or the ‘German Railway Project’? How about we just call whatever this is the ‘Kipling Files’?

 For entirely legitimate reasons, this has created some worry since no one from our educational leaders right down to the shop floor seems to have a clue what it all means. Even to this day, the premise remains largely undefined and certainly, we have no real idea what the government intends practically speaking. Of course, if they are holding to type there is no good news here. Trustees, teachers and parents have asked, as specifically as they can the questions which should have led to careful explanations but to little avail.

Evidently, the ministry has consulted widely with the school community but no one in Cowichan appears to have been asked for an opinion. But in the real world how can you ask anyone their views on something about which you have provided no details?

Still I am reliably informed though we do not have any clear idea what is being expected of our districts and our schools in light of this new model, we are now in fact situated in Year One of its implementation here in Cowichan. Even at this meeting, there was a grim sense of black comedy at this revelation. Year One of something which resembles something else no one has any idea about but we are already doing it anyway so not to worry. I am worried and my guess is so are you.

Still amid the swirl, we find some hints apart from some coy yet alarming language. The BC School Superintendents Association (BCSSA) staged a conference last fall in Victoria which as always included carefully chosen principals, trustees, teachers and students entitled ‘Personalised Learning for the 21st Century: From Vision to Action.’

 I am sure the discussion was wide ranging but the speakers welcomed to direct the central session of the conference figure prominently in something called the Innovation Unit from the UK. The aims of this organisation focus on pioneering methods to provide public services at reduced costs. While most of us are not tilted towards opposing ‘innovation’ we could be forgiven for wondering exactly what this means when it comes to our schools.

Since the ideologues in our midst have refused to supply direct talk on the intention of this new wave of education, it falls to anyone with a laptop and some spare time to define some of the lingo they have substituted for plain language and authentic conversation. Nature hates a vacuum though clearly nature doesn’t have a house full of cats.

So here goes…

Teacher Excellence”- A condition which can only be achieved by decertifying the union and stripping said teachers of every charter right they have. That’ll beat the excellence into ‘em…

Power Of Informal Learning”- Kids do much better in the absence of confining and old fashioned concepts of schooling like teachers, resources, buildings.

Lifelong Learning Journey”- You will be made redundant so many times your head will spin so you must have a back up plan and a hairnet.

Performance Culture” – Ratting out your family and colleagues for not measuring up to a unilateral standard no thinking person could agree with if they actually knew what it was.

Personalised Learning” – You are on your own, Skippy!

Opportunities For Education” – Assuming your only goal is to plan your own high levels of exploitation.

Open Data”- Access to material not normally considered useful or informative.

Accelerating Technological Change”- Making private firms who market incomprehensible software and endlessly out of date hardware as rich as Croesus.

Holistic Transformation”- Transforming our schools into holes.

Hands On Learning” -Here is a stick – now go play in the mud.

Flexibility”- Being able to bend over far enough to hold your ankles.

Consultation” – Giving the peasants a chance to vent after the authorities have already made the decisions.

There are things far more important to address besides putting a fresh false face on our approaches to educating our kids.

We need 21st Century Poverty Eradication; 21st Century Democracy; 21st Century Labour/Management Relations; 21st Century Full Cost Accounting and we need those now and far more than some Houdini exercise in sleight of hand to keep us sweet while our schools shrivel away.

When I was a kid I knew despite my fervent hopes, we would not have flying cars by the 21st century but I would never have guessed our fearless leaders would be wasting our time trying to cheat us out of the public education system our forbearers envisioned and fought for.

There is every reason to sit as citizens and craft better learning environments. Our children and the people who teach them deserve the best. However, these days the only element up for debate in the public realm is a conversation about cutting costs. The needs of our schools are not relevant in this discourse.

When it comes to 21st Century Learning, the only relevant goal is brainwashing us into believing our hopes and dreams are unrealistic and the grown up solutions can be found in finding ways to provide our kids with an education which will not disturb the fiscal priorities of commerce.

It is not ‘brave’; it is not ‘new’.

It is an empty hostile gesture indifferent to our kids and their well being.

Your Trustee Pal

Eden

These two links will put you in touch with some of the power point patter.

If some of this does not keep you awake in a cold sweat I will be surprised.

I welcome your analysis.

http://bcssa.org/fallconference.html

Scroll Down for the Fall 2010 conference material
 http://www.bcssa.org/sla.html

Click on Summer Leadership Academy presentation
Deputy Minister of Education, James Gorman 

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