Diary of a Mad Trustee / October 5th 2011 Open Board Meeting

 

Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

  Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

 

 

“What matters most is for the school, the district, and the state to be able to say that more students have reached ‘proficiency’. This sort of fraud ignores the students’ interests while promoting the interests of adults who take credit for nonexistent improvements.”
                                  Diane Ravitch

 

I have often thought information we are given freely is useless to us or we would not be getting it in the first place. I think this every time I review the monthly Organisation of Classes report.

At first when the whole mad process began back in 2006 with the passage of Bill 33, our board was asked to accept the flaming report; later we were asked only to receive it; now we are asked to accept it once a year. The remainder of the time it is an uncelebrated document which barely gets a moment’s notice on a board meeting agenda. This is curious when you reflect on the time and effort which goes into procuring it. Because the School Act seeks only a minimal reporting out, the fashion in which our reports are provided vary from district to district depending on the diligence and sheer bloody-mindedness of trustees.

As time has gone by and the conditions have clearly deteriorated, the focus has carefully been drawn away.

I understand…

Remember the period prior to January  2002- when the provisions governing non-enrolling teachers, class size and composition as well as the inclusion of students with special needs resided within the collective agreement between the employer and the BCTF. These features were dealt with as a matter of working conditions within the contract. Much more rational and much more effective. Who better to be the arbiters of school based services than our teachers?

In the wake of Bills 27 and 28 which expunged those details without negotiation from the teachers’ contract, trustees should have cried out in indignation. Bill 33 was spawned exclusively to whitewash the exponential dismantlement of our learning conditions by replacing the contract language with a clumsy, despotic process pretending to examine classroom function. The role of trustees has been to anoint the reports arising from this activity with little or no question. Perhaps if we had rejected these class organisation reports from the get go and refused to bestow credibility on them with our raised hands, the government would not have been able to hobble our kids while saving over $3 billion dollars since 2002. Boards passed the budgets; trustees accepted as futile any resistance to this agenda. Now we sit grimly and hope it is not as bad as it seems. It is worse but you will only know this if you visit schools and talk to teachers and principals. Of course, our employees live and breathe this reality daily. But make no mistake – Bill 33 is the flagship of this government’s public education take down.

The information in these organisation reports brought by the superintendents is slight and does not even add a breath of discovery to what we as trustees and you as community need to know about what is going on in our schools.

Bill 33 established the protocol where by class size and composition in Grades 4 through 12 can deviate from conditions set in the School Act through a process of consent (grades 4-7) or in the case of grades 8-12 through consultation between the teacher and the school principal. Though it fell to the principal at first to arrange consultation meetings with the teachers in the event their classrooms violated the benchmarks, a change in legislation back in 2008 placed the burden for seeking these meetings on the teacher. In October of each year, the district parent association (DPAC) must also sign off on this outrage and I have yet to hear a peep out of them. Their leadership in this would be exceedingly valuable. I remain hopeful.

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 See below for the whole enchilada.

Individual CLASSES cannot exceed these limits:

Kindergarten: 22 (not altered by Bill 33, previously in the School Act)

Grades 1–3: 24 (not altered by Bill 33, previously in the School Act)

Grades 4–7: 30(cannot be exceeded unless the superintendent and principal agree that the organization of the class is appropriate for student learning and the teacher consents within 15 school days after school opening day.)

Grades 8–12: 30 (cannot be exceeded unless the superintendent and principal agree that the organization of the class is appropriate for student learning and the principal has consulted the teacher within 15 school days after school opening day)

What is the class-composition provision in Bill 33?

There can be no more than three students for whom IEPs must be designed in any class, K–12, unless the superintendent and the principal agree that the organization of the class is appropriate for student learning and the principal has consulted the teacher within 15 school days after school opening day.

What does it mean to give consent or to be consulted?

Consent is straightforward. It requires the actual, unforced agreement of the individual Grade 4–7 teacher faced with a request by a principal to put more than 30 students in her or his class. If the teacher does not consent, the principal may not add the 31st student. As the Minister of Labour stated during the debate on Bill 33, “Consent implies that it could be withheld and, in that circumstance, there would be, obviously, financial implications that flow from having to reconfigure classes.”

The right to be consulted is more than being given mere notice. It includes an exchange of information between the parties in which each has an active role to discuss, express opinions, make their views known, and have a say. It means teachers must be provided with all relevant information regarding the class and students involved. The principal must remain open to suggestions and input before the final decision is made.

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Imagine the discomfort teachers experience if they endeavour to stand firm on these flimsy guidelines. The principal is a work colleague and someone most teachers do not wish to trouble further. Teachers also know those principals who speak out will bear the brunt of administration disappointment at the district level. And believe me there is a significant price to be paid by anyone who fails to fall into line. We have been specifically told principals are not permitted to ‘disagree’.

In our district this month out of approximately 1200 classes, we have 259 classes which are either in violation of the size and\or composition limitations. Most of the critical composition issues appear in our middle and secondary schools. But some of the most tragic conditions occur in the elementary classes and go relatively unreported.

But there is more…

Under the provisions of Bill 33, districts are not obligated to recognise the need for non enrolling teachers- a detail once acknowledged in the contracts. Therefore, over the last decade it has been possible to whittle away at resource time, learning assistance, teacher librarians and counseling without having it register in the mandated reports. Of course we can’t provide the classroom teaching time either which is why our class sizes and challenges have proliferated but most teachers realise the presence of these other services can make all the difference when dealing with a demanding classroom.

 A few more details would add to our understanding. But remember having trustees and community understand does not feed the cat.

We should receive samples of comments made by teachers on the consultation forms including information regarding whether they have or have not agreed their classroom is ‘appropriate for student learning.’ Despite having a professional and collegial concern for other staff members in light of a dearth of resources to modify the situation, teachers do make cogent and insightful remarks in the paperwork which should be added to the public discourse about our schools when the monthly report is made.

We find out how many violations there are but we do not receive any information about the supports in place for any classes. Truly- even if there were only 1 child with a designation in a class, trustees must know if the teacher has the necessary support.

Every teacher I have spoken with tells us there are many children who have behaviour or learning needs which are not formally recognised but must be accommodated in the classroom. There are no supports for these kids except of course the classroom teacher. A senior administrator told us it is not possible to calculate these numbers because the situation is ‘fluid’. I bet every teacher in every class knows the answer – so let’s not ask and let’s not tell.

In our elementary schools there are classes with 9 or 7or 5 designated kids, 3 way splits and so on. Just accepting the description ‘classes with 3 or more students with Special Ed. codes’ fails on so many levels to outline the problems teachers and kids face as they try to function in the interests of learning. We are not told how much EA support time exists in classes. Nor do we get any info about resource, learning assistance, counseling or librarian time.

You may well ask what might happen if a teacher or principal or superintendent were to disagree with the conditions in a classroom or a school or the district. Logically if no one can usefully disagree, why endure this expensive and time consuming process?

Why ask if the answer must always be ‘YES SIR!’?

Just impose the conditions and leave it at that instead of applying a veneer of open review and consultation. Let’s enjoy a bit of authentic totalitarianism and call it what it is. At least then, the precious resources we waste while forcing educators to apply their efforts to this complex exercise in combing over the big bald spot created by the remorseless budget cuts could be directed to teaching. This is a black comedy at its farciest (again not necessarily a word). We compel teachers and principals to evaluate their classroom situations in detail very month though we have no means to improve those circumstances at all, no matter what insights they may have. Every month we watch the Ministry chew up a big chunk of the meagre funds they have allocated for our schools and crap it off a cliff.

 

 In December 2005,B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled the B.C. Ministry of Education and School Districts discriminate against children with learning disabilities by making cutbacks which disproportionately impact children with learning disabilities and by failing to provide them with necessary programs and services and stated:

            “Failure to provide appropriate support and accommodations to a vulnerable group could not be justified on the basis of cost. Public schools are required by law to provide an education for all students to the point of undue hardship.”

 

  Bill 33 is a Wal-Mart standard for learning – one stop; lowest quality for the least cost; mediocre benchmarks because this is all we deserve and all we are willing to pay for.

While most teachers are seeking the very best circumstances for their students, this protocol merely provides for the bare minimum if that. Boards have unthinkingly accepted as routine and normal, classrooms which cry out for better resourcing. Bill 33 is not interested in non enrolling teachers because those positions were placed in jeopardy the minute the language regarding their merit was stripped from the contract – the only acknowledged format is to display the classrooms as separate little kingdoms. This is a totally batshit concept right up there with the thinking which leads us to diminish our cleaning and maintenance regimes and our bussing service. The environment for learning is collective and complex – each component secures the success of the rest of the world our kids and employees inhabit. When we cannabalise one area for another, the process of disfigurement is completed. That is one of the many reasons Bill 33 is a crock – it atomises the conditions class by class and forgets the people and the umbrella under which they struggle together.

It is far past time to be sitting in board rooms making pious comments or asking pointless questions and I have been as guilty of this activity as anyone has.

It is time boards demanded the right to opt out of the Bill 33 provisos so we can redirect our energies to dealing with our kids and stop pretending the provincial government gives a rat’s ass about the conditions under which they are learning.

This process comes to us courtesy of ill concealed contempt for public education and its promise. Many hangers on and apologists are doing very well thank you because of this race to the bottom. Wholesale rejection by trustees of these reports is our minimum program now. Then we can start looking up and out – instead of colluding shamefully with this ‘end of public education’ vision we are assured is our only course.

Teachers in this province are fighting hammer and claw for the kids in these dilapidated classrooms. Their job action is as much about that as it is about wages and benefits. We have a duty to the people who speak out for the kids despite the personal and professional cost.

No trustee and no board will suffer any real world penalty for supporting our bravest educators. As for our senior administrators – can anyone think of a better mountain to die on?

Please proceed to this link and view this report as a salute to the voice you will hear.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/10/17/bc-teacherspeaks.html

Your Trustee Pal

Eden

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