Diary of a Mad Trustee November 2nd 2011 Open Board Meeting

 

 

Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice

 Resist the Beginning…Consider the End

I know you know we are in the midst of an election campaign and though there is a sad deficit of interest in the school board I always tell people without hesitation –school board is more vital than you may think. I have observed it is a place where our folks in Cowichan could- with the right dedication to our mandate for community involvement- engage with their elected people with reasonable ease. Of course, most people incorrectly assume boards of trustees have no power and no means to guide the public education system but we do…a board majority could operate with alarming effectiveness on behalf of our schools and our kids if they chose to do so.                                      

Anyone I have ever talked into sitting in the gallery has always found the proceedings everything from fascinating to comic to hellish to addictive. We only have 10 people seeking the nine seats so only one of us will drop off the bottom but that one person will make a world of difference to the work we do. Some of us are more self assured about the outcome I have noted. However, I am not so self assured– the people I work with are campaigning vigorously and not at all willing to believe it will all just fall into their laps as a matter of privilege. Reminiscent of the way we have functioned at the table – we prepare and assume quite correctly we must be one step ahead at least.

We need your interest and we need your counsel. Please vote; please pay attention because the next three years will rub along much better if the board is full of resolve and not just rhetoric or careerism.

“There lives a man who arranges the things of today as pleasantly as possible but creeps blindly towards tomorrow” – Sophocles

Tonight the bus route up Mount Sicker Road was settled – I hope- to everyone’s satisfaction. The service prior to 2007 filled the needs of that neighbourhood. The kids we were collecting and dropping off merely wished to attend their home school and lived miles outside any sensible walk limit. When in 2007 there were no kids who needed a ride, the service was paused as of course, it should have been but with the proviso it would be restored when needed by a changing family dynamic. It did change but as in the meantime we had slashed funding from our bussing budget to try to stop the bleeding in other areas of district function, the service was not reintroduced as requested.

When the budget was being hammered out in 2010/2011 – a number of trustees, reps from employee groups as well as parents and the aboriginal community asked what bussing would look like with the proposed 20% ($318,568) hack job to the service. It was cold comfort to be told the loss of routes and bus drivers(who cares about a few long serving dedicated employees anyway?) would be managed with a few simple flicks of the wrist – all the kids who currently rode the bus would continue to do so. They would however likely be asked to travel to a succession of central hubs rather than be picked up closer to home. Cold comfort but comfort nevertheless.

Evidently, we might have saved our breath asking. When the bussing was unveiled the following  September and without any prior notice to our community, things had changed far more and families suddenly found they had no right to attend any schools other than those which were designated ‘home schools’ if they wished to have their children bussed. For years in the breathless language of ‘client’ preference which frankly I have always disliked, parents had been encouraged to send their children to their school of choice based on any number of criteria they might have. There were in effect no home schools. This approach had the blessing of the province which had its own reasons for allowing parents to select their child’s school. It certainly has helped build grave inequities into the circumstances our district schools operate under. Mission accomplished!

The routes were adjusted to adapt to the budget cuts and many of our kids were denied this service. Only French Immersion families emerged relatively unscathed but even those students had to contend with the other manifestations of budgets cuts to our bussing. Even the so called courtesy shuttles, meant to operate for students who needed to travel to Cow High from the south or Kelsey from the other zones, travelled out of a central stop which many kids had no way of reaching.

The new arrangement obligated our kids to wait in school parking lots for as long as 45 minutes after class before making the trek home. Some drivers indicated some of the stops created to receive kids more centrally were unsafe and the walks required to get to these stops were on roads which did not have adequate shoulders or sidewalks.

Over the early months of the school year in 2010 our bussing department valiantly worked to offset the problems created thoughtlessly by the cut to funding. As always, it fell to the transportation management and the drivers to craft solutions after the fact.

We should and we do dearly value our bussing service. We treasure the advances it represents. We are aware our busses are a safeguard for equal access and environmental conscientiousness. To be forced into cataloguing defects is painful because we know most people have no time to protest the changes or demand better. Many families accepted there was nothing for it but adjust and soldier on. In many cases, they did so by making other provision for getting their kids to school if they could. Remember – our attendance and even our grad rates are impacted by a child’s ability to arrive at school reliably.

As trustees and community members, we are obligated to resist the downward pressure to relieve this valley of its largest public transportation service. Free, green, safe and accessible – all the bywords of our busses with 4 times the number operating for our schools as that of BC transit.

We can carve away in the name of trying to support conditions in our classes but even the entire bussing budget would not restore our lost programs or shore up our services in the district. Try to decide for yourself whether you could do without your liver, heart or your lung and see how futile it is to steal from one part of the district organism to sustain another part.

The Ministry of Education provides funding within the annual Funding Allocations System (FAS) to compensate districts for transportation costs, a system which has been in place since 2002/03.

This had been calculated at $85.7 million in 2002 for the 60 boards for transportation. Believe it or not, this sum has not been substantially adjusted and remains more or less at this level to this day. In the intervening time, our Transportation Department in this school district has faced the challenge of maintaining the fleet while balancing a shrinking budget with rising costs – costs which have increased by almost 100% over the decade.

The department has achieved this through cutting the mileage our busses travel, technical innovation and reductions in drivers’ hours. Administration has endeavoured to balance district budgets on the back of this service – as time has gone on, the cuts have gracefully escalated, carefully year after year – a bit like punching someone through a telephone book – lots of pain with minimal outrage due to an absence of obvious bruising.

Does anyone actually recall we once had three senior drivers who drove 8 hours a day, 5 days a week? Aside from driving the special needs kids to and from school, our bussing system drove all those kids to swimming twice a week, to the riding program at Providence Farm and to life skills programs. Not any more – not since 2004.

By 2005, sports and field trips had been cut by more than half and the midday kindergarten runs had stopped; the department had endured a 50% cut to full time employees and the 10 most senior drivers had their hours cut by 25%. The rest of our drivers suffered a 15% drop in income.

The great folks in the Mt Sicker neighbourhood have been as they were referred to ‘squeaky wheels’. But not only on their own behalf. They have made it clear they champion bussing for all our students and have participated in our election process to emphasise their support for candidates who do so as well.

In the end, a motion was brought to endorse the option which travels up the road to collect the younger children while the older kids are picked up by a second bus a bit lower down the road- close to where they live. I am happy for them. It certainly took quite a lot of squeaking. It is interesting to note a further motion calling for a review of student bussing needs in our more outlying areas was also passed. I support this motion but am saddened by the somewhat after the fact character of it. It is edifying to be able to reexamine the opportunities our kids have for accessing the busses. However, we already have on our books a number of recommendations from the now defunct Transportation Safety Review Committee which could shed light on many of the inadequacies imposed by cuts to the bussing budget. In light of the lack of enthusiasm those recommendations received over the last year, I am skeptical a further review will actually benefit our families – if our intentions are to continue to pick away at the transportation system.

When we made the last large cut to bussing in the 2010/2011 budget, a motion was brought to the table during second reading as follows:

Whereas the duty to endorse budget details rests entirely with trustees and trustees are accountable for the outcomes of any cutbacks

It is moved that:

2nd reading of the 2010/2011 compliance budget is referred to June 16th to allow the gathering and distribution to trustees of the following:

·         Detailed bussing model now required due to the 20% cut to transportation

·         Detailed model for providing alternate program in the district in light of the cuts to staffing and the new policy from Ministry

·         Full report on the results of the consultation process outlined in Bylaw # 4 regarding School Calendar changes

·         Review of cuts to technology requested by trustees including the unanticipated cut to the DRC

·         Review of the cost to district of the Partners in Learning program beyond student funding for enrollment

·         Details concerning the cut to principal/vice principal’s admin time to determine the real extent of the savings

·         Full details concerning the expansion of cleaning areas for custodians as well as the outcomes of loss of summer, Christmas and spring opportunities for cleaning in our schools

·         Details regarding the supports for the students in the cancelled IBIT programs at Bonner, Prevost and LCSS

·         Full disclosure of the details of our contractual arrangements with the 9 SBO managers including their full costs i.e. gross salary, benefits, vacation allotment, cell phones, retreats, professional development and mileage, a detailed list of their duties and previous structure of senior staffing in our district.

You will note the attempt to tease out the details regarding our bussing among other things – how would these services and programs look if we passed this budget? The motion failed and we proceeded to watch as the majority passed the cuts without any further inquiry. I do not mind a review now but it makes more sense to anticipate the real life impacts of budget cuts before you approve them rather than look in later after the school community has tried to cope with the damage.

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“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”

                                          Albert Einstein

We have  had a bit of a donnybrook concerning the placement and activation of the new modulars which have come to us by Ministry command to somehow alleviate the capacity issues three district schools may have in handling full day kindergarten  – Palsson, Duncan Elementary and Ecole Mill Bay.  

Due to be delivered in June 2011, they did not arrive until just before the Labour Day weekend. District maintenance was to have had the whole summer to install the damn things and if they had arrived on time, they would have been in place without much difficulty. Our diligent operations department had planned all the details and this included asking our trades people to stall their summer holidays in order to have them in harness for the work involved in establishing utilities, setup and finishing, cleaning the sites for classroom use.

This lengthy delivery delay resulted in a disastrous planning situation for some of our schools and some truly unpleasant conditions for staff and kids. Not all parents at all the schools found it in their hearts to be understanding about the whole thing. It tells me a few things about trusting our ministry fed contractors. We were ready and Shelter Industries was remiss. However, the call for more contracting out was high on the minds of some of the parents who failed to connect the dots between the loss of control for our district and the debacle created by an unresponsive business who endure no consequences for failure.

It might have occurred to the families they at least could air their grievances to our district employees, managers and trustees as is entirely appropriate. That is why we are here. Shelter Industries got off relatively unscathed but no doubt richer for the experience.

By November 14th the modulars at Ecole Mill Bay will open for use – I hope the lesson here is we must at all costs restore and advance the capacity of our maintenance department so we can as a district always keep our hand on the tiller.

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So- this was the next to last meeting of this board.

In the air is a sense something very different just might hove into view after the election. I certainly hope so because -god knows- we can’t carry on as we have.

For some reason lately, I cannot stop thinking about the ‘Wizard of Oz’ and the scene at the end which always made me cry. I suppose it comes as quite a shock to most of us to discover our subjugation is a myth, a fable told to us which hangs on and suffocates us. Poor old Dorothy goes through all that bother including the endless singing and fending off the advances of sexually confused Hallowe’en costumes only to be told in the end she had the power to go home all along.

And so it is with us. We have the power. We have always had the power. No one person- mind you- but all of us together can remake the world in a better image, if we all decided to make the break with despair and resignation. We could all go home – where we belong – with our right to genuinely direct the course of decisions which affect our lives.

Don’t listen to them – the big ‘uns have a vested interest in keeping this a secret. 

 DOROTHY
Oh, will you help me?

GLINDA
You don’t need to be helped any longer.
You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.

DOROTHY
I have?

SCARECROW
Then why didn’t you tell her before?

GLINDA
Because she wouldn’t have believed me.
She had to learn it for herself.

And so we have…thanks Glinda.

Your Trustee Pal

Eden

                                                            

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