Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice
Resist the Beginning…Consider the End
Six years is a long time to spend in the board room but I have been a willing participant and I have no one to blame but myself. It has not always been a pleasure but it has always been a privilege. If I strung together some of the more dramatic or comedic incidents from those years I would have a series which would make ‘The Borgia’s’ blush and show up ‘Madmen’ as bland and predictable. The learning curve (fancy talk for how long it takes to find your feet) is steep and I have not been able to flatten it right out even after all this time.
However – I do have my own testimony …not official. Will not stand up in a court of law. I can read though my diaries and get a grip on the landscape of my own experience at the table. All these pages are admittedly through my eyes alone – not necessarily the final say or the only stories. However, they are my stories. Sometimes I reread an ancient bit of scribble from an old report and I am amazed at how much I have forgotten.
This meeting was not inconsequential by any means. We spent most of the tiny amount of so called surplus on a recommendation to the Board regarding allocation of Surplus Funds from 2010/2011:
“That the Board of Education direct that the Surplus Funds from 2010/2011 be allocated as follows:
EA Contingency $75,000
Class size and composition:
Quamichan 20 hrs per week Academic EA $20,872
CHSS (2 blocks teaching support for academics) $20,872
Alexander .3 Teaching support for academics $20,872
Khowhemun .3 Teaching support for academics $20,872
Cobble Hill .3 Teaching support for academics $20,872
Koksilah 20 hr per week Academic EA $20,872
Chemainus Elementary Additional 7.5 hr per week Behaviour EA
As you can gather from this list, this arrangement- which has left us with only $25,367 unspent- is much like tossing a gnat’s bum into a boxcar. I am pleased some of our neediest schools are getting a bit of the help they so desperately should have had without all this to-do but we are so far from doing the right thing by the kids in our classrooms it would be insensitive indeed to celebrate these meagre gestures. Out of 221 consultation and consent forms completed for the classes which were over 30 students or had more than 3 special education codes as of Sept. 30th, 107, forms demonstrated the teacher believed the proposed size and/or composition of the class were not appropriate for student learning. Nothing to write home about- we will soon need a particle physicist to track the sub atomic activity our paltry efforts produce. I must however extend my gratitude to our superintendent for listening to the employees and fashioning a plan which was more about the needs and not about improving the dismal numbers in the Organisation of Classes Report.
I have in rereading some of my tracts found a few comments I think might be worth repeating under some of the most compelling topics. As I have always clearly stated – these are my views not the views of the board or indeed many of the trustees. However, I have found many friends who do agree from time to time and even if they don’t they are glad to note the discourse and the diversity.
Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.
–William Butler Yeats
“It is our job as the employer to set direction. I hope we are not committed to being slave drivers or despots so we must demand our senior staff and the good folks at BCPSEA who bargain on our behalf adopt a progressive tone free of ‘condescension and confrontation’.
We should be reminding them (BCPSEA) they are obligated to negotiate a contract and not wait for the government to wade in with back to work legislation. I am loath to suggest their conditions of work be unilaterally modified to include a proviso which allows trustees to have them blown out an airlock into deep space if they don’t get on with it.
This can be resolved with the good faith of an honourable government doing more than just hoard money for their own priorities. If I must pick a side based on past actions and evidence of loyalty to our kids, our schools and our public education system, I am afraid there are few particulars which would allow me to choose the Ministry of Education or their beard BCPSEA. I can accept happily the teachers’ understandable wish to seek a salary increase but I cannot overlook the continuous assault the government has mounted on our schools.”
Diary of a Mad Trustee /August 31st 2011
“What the world really needs is more love and less paperwork.”
“In the wake of Bills 27 and 28 which expunged the language governing classroom supports 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.”
Diary of a Mad Trustee /Oct.5th 2011
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Rachel Carson
“The Community Alliance for Public Education applied to the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria last fall through their intern program for the services of a graduating lawyer to prepare a legal opinion on the potential reductions of bussing by school boards in districts across the province as it relates to existing environmental legislation.
School District #79 Cowichan was drawn on as a case study.
The law student and her supervising professor requested delegation status to present the substance of their final report and its recommendations to the Board of Education in Cowichan. They were denied but rerouted to the Sustainability Committee. A bit disappointing and sanity challenged considering the topic but what the hell – the report could at least reach a few trustees and a smattering of community members.
That opportunity was revoked – seems the board frowns on the organisation which commissioned the report and objected to the possible presence of members of the public at the meeting. I have no idea what they thought might transpire but their imaginations are clearly more developed than mine.
The backgrounder as well as the full report and recommendations can be found at –http://capeincowichan.bc.ca/2011/02/20/school-bussing-enviromental-impact/”
Excerpt from the School Bussing/ Environmental Impact Legal Memo published February 8th 2011
In addition to the legislated requirements for carbon neutrality, school districts across the province have committed to reducing their carbon footprint. However, removing or reducing school bus service is an act contrary to this goal. Reduced bus service leads to an increase in the number of private vehicles making separate trips to schools, and thus an increase in GHG emissions related to student transportation.
Recording and reporting emissions and the purchase of offsets by school districts can only cause meaningful change if government allows for an accurate account of all emissions related to district operations. Excluding school bus emissions from the carbon offset scheme leaves unaccounted for CO2e being released into the atmosphere each year by both B.C. school buses and by private vehicles being used in place of those buses. By allowing the provision of school buses to be used as a local offset program for individual districts, the GHG reduction regime in B.C. would provide a more meaningful tool in the fight against global warming.
We look forward to speaking with you further about this matter.
Natasha Gooch, Law Student Lawyer,
Deborah Curran, Program Director
Environmental Law Centre, University of Victoria”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/ February 16th 2011
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.- George Bernard Shaw
“Tonight I learned the parents in the Friends of Cowichan Kids are much better than the board at determining exactly what they need to advance the public education system out at the Lake. Frankly, their plan is as useful and cogent as anything the board has managed to cobble together for the district.
§ Fully resourced, fully funded quality public education for all our children
- § Open, accurate and consistent communication between the school board and our whole community
- § Maintenance of all our current schools as well as new facilities as required
- § The right to enroll at our own neighbourhood schools.
- § Improved bussing
- § Ongoing communication with the board and provincial government regarding the community expectation for a new school
They are looking for a commitment from this board that we will neither close nor sell any more schools in their communities – it is a simple question and I would like to give them a simple answer.”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/Nov.18th 2009
21st Century Learning
We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
– C.S. Lewis
“Competition is the byword and as always will function to strangle liberal education without remorse. Evidently, our schools are not turning out enough narcissistic sociopaths to satisfy employers. No one wants our communities littered with human beings fundamentally hobbled by their lack of drive and competitiveness, their incapacity for pushing past others. If there is a ‘concern about competitiveness’ we are not told who is concerned or why. Families are urged to respond to the current lack of equal opportunity by turning on each other in a battle royale for the crumbs which remain.
For all future purposes when translating 21st century lingo into English the term ‘modernise’ will heretofore be code for ‘job training’ because god knows there is not a moment of childhood to waste in seeking wisdom, culture or civic concepts.
The role of the 21st Century design – continue to pull back public funding, end elected oversight, privatise the care of facilities, rubbish unions ; the vision – convince the business sector education can -with a bit of skilled slight of hand- bestow both profit and a suitable workforce. We just have to embrace rampant self-interest, cut the problem students loose, ratchet down working conditions and give up on our obligations to equality and democracy. When you can easily craft another initiative to avoid doing the obvious- why fund our public system so it can provide learning in a quality environment with everyone getting what they need?”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/ October 6th 2010
Those against politics are in favor of the politics inflicted upon them.
“Whether you read the BCSTA’s authoritative Q & A guide or rely on the locally developed codes all created within School Act directives there is no question our role as trustees is primarily that of projecting the community voice and priorities in the context of public education. We are not merely a convenience for the ministry – a means to lend the sheen of democracy to decrees from Victoria. In addition, the deluge of propaganda which flows endlessly from the government telling us everything is just ducky is really just another form of opinion from a very biased and self interested source – hell we even have to pay for it. There are no political activists like the spokespersons for the government. It seems a soupcon dramatic to complain about one tiny blog like this one which in the scheme of things makes hardly a squeak. Amazing we will tolerate all manner of wild speculation and hyperbole from the government as it feathers its own nest, amazing the district can issue releases to all and sundry bronzing the images for public consumption but great care is prescribed for the minor players ( that is you and I).”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/ September 1st 2010
He who opens a school door, closes a prison.
“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.”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/ April 6th 2011
“Action expresses priorities.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
As the statement from our partners on the Budget/Finance Committee 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.”
“We have been telling trustees for years if they file cutback budgets this action effectively says the funding is more or less in line with needs. School Boards slash and burn and hang on to a few miserable kopeks in case of dire emergencies and find themselves- after all this- hauled up in front of the Leg by a bunch of extremist carnivores as fine examples of what a far out job the ministry is doing funding public education. Even when boards submit these sad ass needs budgets in tandem, they get lost in the shuffle. No one in government reads the fine print documenting the brutal experience in our districts once the budget is passed and sent off to the ministry – evidently, ministerial staff don’t pour over our Student Success Budget crying out in alarm over the discrepancy between what they supply and what we clearly need.
For boards, the message is plain – You pass it; you wear it. What is worse- you become the poster child for the ministry propaganda machine – smiling eerily with the broken programs and rapidly dwindling services lying off to one side in a smoking heap no one can see due to clever photography.”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/ May 18th 2011
“A better title for the ‘Report on the Vancouver School Board’ would be ‘Chutzpah R Us’ since in no way does the report place any weight on the antics of the ministry charged as they are with providing the needed funds and yet failing to do so. All the problems which relate to funding shortfalls are attributed to the failings of the VSB and for the most part blame their stubborn attempts to represent their constituents for their difficulties. Despite the stated focus of the report on the fiscal obstacles the VSB have in meeting mandates under this regime, 26 of the 42 recommendations contain no budget implications and 8 seek the services of outside hires which would mean carving more funding away from student needs.”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/ June 16th 2010
Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before.
– Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
“Our board to its credit has clearly expressed its considerable dismay over these tests – in March 2007 the Cowichan Board of Trustees passed a motion calling on the BC Ministry of Education to eliminate the Foundation Skills Assessment testing program. They supported the teachers call for a moratorium on FSA testing in the fall of 2009. It should be time for us to get off the pot and lend a hand to those parents who feel the same way. As usual – we are instructed by administration without any actual evidence that if we simply practise what we preach and tell parents they have the right to choose we are disobeying a law and will be punished in this or perhaps the next life on the grounds we could be offending the School Act. This despite the fact there is no direct wording in that piece of dynamic legislation which prohibits parental right to decide on this matter. The participation guidelines merely assert our students are ‘expected’ to write. You and I both know if students could be compelled to write, the word ‘required’ would have been used– but it is not.”
Diary of a Mad Trustee / January 6th 2010
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot
nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
-The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss
Damn it I would vote for Dr. Seuss in a New York minute if I had the chance and he wasn’t dead!!
“I know… you thought our schools were in place to nurture learning and wisdom while employing a large group of dedicated professionals and trades people in a meaningful way. Nah…it is all about generating the damn achievement contact. This modification to the previous ‘accountability contract’ with the advent of Bill 20 proves the adage: you can change something without improving it.
First we have an army of well trained educators spending vast amounts of time preparing, administering and marking tests – all unproductive busywork which does not enhance learning and must really be quite soul destroying for anyone who genuinely thought they would spend their teaching career imparting the finest learning experience to children instead of training them to connect the dots for the ministry.
Second – there is no evidence what so ever that these batteries of tests and the balloon folding the kids and teachers go through has improved their learning at all. Finally – as you wend your weary way through the ‘Achievement Contract’ (soon to be followed by Achievement Contract- Revenge of the Tedious) it becomes clear there is no recognition on any level of the inequalities of opportunity our children labour under. I guess we are to assume full stomachs, adequate clothing and ample family incomes and education backgrounds have no visible impact on the progress kids can make in school.”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/June 17th 2009
In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”
– From ‘The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy’
“Targeted funds meant to serve the enhanced culture and language needs of native students must be used for that and that alone- not to supply native students with core services they are entitled to just as all students are. And it is vital the representatives of the aboriginal community establish the right to autonomy over these funds and in particular the practice of directing their allocation.
Also – it is critical a greater portion of the core funding contribution derived from the presence of aboriginal students should be redirected where possible to serving the advancement of aboriginal student learning.
The Hwulmuhw community has identified all the problems which haunt their kids – they have offered specific, practical and well understood solutions.
They are anxious to expand the culture and language content into more areas of the curriculum and to proceed with Hul’qumi’num immersion. How many times must it be confirmed that the presence of the culture and language of aboriginal people is decisive to the realisation of a quality learning environment?”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/June 3rd 2009
Privatisation in Our Schools
The combination of financial difficulties caused by government under-funding of education increases school vulnerability to commercial influences, as does the debate between proponents of education as a social right and those who define it as a marketable commodity subject to international trade rules and agreements.
-Canadian Teachers Federation
“Private ventures, just like school closures and public land sales, are a short sighted response which can only damage the prospects for fully funded public services. This path may provide a few individuals with a cosy chance to hobnob with the highborn or cultivate a bit of profile wheedling dosh out of businesses. It will intensify the crushing burden of fundraising among our parent volunteers while establishing the rubric private individuals must carry the weight of paying for our kids’ education while we continue to fork over vast sums of taxation to the province for god knows what.
The real solution for School Trustees is to demand full, stable funding by submitting needs budgets to the Province. Our families and employees will stand with us if we do.”
Private Funding – The Bottom Line
- § Inequity: Some schools and school communities have varying degrees of capacity to fundraise and otherwise attract outside funding.
- § Competition: Relying on private donors may create competition among programs and schools, as different institutions chase the same sources of funds.
- § Targeting: Relying on private sources, through fundraising or corporate donations, allows those private sources, rather than schools and school boards, to make decisions on programs deemed more “worthy” of support.
- § Conditional funding: Some private donors may attach strings – an advertising requirement, or the inclusion of certain students and the exclusion of others, or the use of specific curriculum – to their funding for public education.
- § Selective funding: An increasing number of items, such as playground equipment, field trips, and even some classroom and learning resources, are being defined as “frills” outside of government funding.
- § Unstable funding: Many private sources of funding do not make commitments to provide the resources over any extended period, particularly in times of economic instability.
- § Lack of educational quality control: Who ensures the curriculum/classroom materials being provided to schools by business sources are unbiased, complete, and accurate?”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/January 5th 2011
“Closing schools no longer saves much money as most of the funding we now receive is based on FTE enrolment. If we move (the students) from one school to another, for the most part the dollars follow as we fund schools on an FTE basis for teacher clerical, SEAs, principals etc. About the only savings that arise are custodial and some small portion of clerical but not much more.”
– Secretary-Treasurer Don Woytowich, Maple Ridge Oct. 12, 2007
“Does closing schools supply net savings to redirect to other schools and programs as suggested?
We have been told closing schools will permit a redirection of resources to programs and services for the schools which are left. Has the closure of many schools in this district plumped up our budgets?
We are frequently reminded 80 – 90 % of the operating budget for this district indeed all districts is wages, salaries and benefits. If a school is closed and the children from that school are moved to another in the district then generally the positions move with them and the costs of educating them is ongoing –but at another location. We still have to maintain class sizes according to the School Act and Bill 33.Even a closed school needs to be heated and cared for inside and out and in our new property policy this is now required.
And – as is often the case – when a school closes and for one reason or another some of the children leave the public system or the district (private schools, home schooling etc) we lose that funding. There is little to redirect when schools close. If anything, we find ourselves paring back and losing assets and continuing to find the provincial policies for underfunding fail our kids.
Closing our schools is part of the process of cutting not a solution to it – as evidenced by the fact all the previous cutting and closing which by the way have gone hand in hand has not slaked the appetite to continue to diminish our school programs.”
Diary of a Mad Trustee/December 1st 2010
So, that is the report for this and other meetings. The themes do not vary much which at least allows us to focus. The reports do contribute to my ability (and hopefully yours) to examine how far we have come and how little may have changed. Nothing will be transformed if elected people cling to the status quo and their pointless optimism about the motives of the powerful. The people in government at the higher levels have the means to make this better and yet they refuse. They refuse because they do not wish to promote the collective well being of our communities. They believe only the most privileged should benefit from the wealth of our land. What are we to do with this? What are we to do with those who may love their own children but don’t give a fig for anyone else’s? As you can see this is a long game – but anyone who doubts we have a fight on our hands has not sat in our board room or studied the direction of our public system.
There is nothing inherently positive about counting on our government for wise and honourable decisions. There is nothing inherently negative about fighting for our kids even if it seems a bit rude. If we pay attention to history, we will do as many have done before us and are doing now. Shall we join the incoming tide or float out to sea on the outgoing?
And the beat goes on….
Your Trustee Pal