January 14/13: The Record Off The Record: Operations Planning and Policy: Funding, Grad Rates, You Are Being Recorded

Although School District budgets are not due in to the Ministry until June 30, District 61 plans a final budget by early April . Every year this “holdback money” is a different amount, which creates planning challenges. Boards never know what may be held back from the holdback, either, so holdback funds are not factored into budget . Holdback funds are applied to SD61’s structural deficit (currently $8, 639,000) for the next year, when they are received.

The Record Off The Record is my personal record of and commentary on public meetings in School District 61 Greater Victoria  (5 municipalities). “Official” approved minutes are posted on the SD61 website, generally one month after the meeting. Trustees are referred to by last name only for brevity; “the Board of Education of SD No. 61 (Greater Victoria” is referred to as “the Board [etc]”. No audio recordings are made of Standing Committee meetings, only of Board meetings. [No record of how the audio recording decision was made, or any debate on proposed uses of and storage of the record appears to exist, although how this started became clear in this meeting.]

Correspondence from the public:

Since January 2012, when my term as Trustee on the SD61 Greater Victoria Board of Education began, I’ve received several emails from the public, usually addressed to all Trustees and senior administration, and one hard copy letter. Since nothing ever seems to appear in the “Correspondence Referred to the Committee” section of the Standing Committee  agendas, and since the Board agenda doesn’t have a “Correspondence” item, I’ll report the correspondence I receive here, with reference to the general topic, and without senders’ names. Since January 2012, I’ve received emails  and one letter on these topics:

  • concern regarding teacher job action
  • in support of teachers during job action
  • school facilities concern
  •  supporting free breakfast program (Policy last reviewed in 1994; Community Link funding is used for a meal program some GVSD schools)
  • concern regarding lack of composition reporting along with class sizes (Vancouver School Board SD39 does receive a class size report that includes class composition)
  • concerned with wifi in K-5 schools (7 emails), most recently January 7th 
  • parent-personnel (directed to Superintendent as well)
  • suggestion for policing in Esquimalt and Victoria, and policing for Aboriginal persons
  •  International Students and the School Act
  • lack of funding for earthquake kits and earthquake safety supplies, and schools relying on community donations for this
  • Reiteration of parental non-consent letter to Board for child exposure to wifi in school (January 6, 2013)

No In Camera meeting. 

Recognition of Songhees and Esquimalt Nations’ traditional territories.

Absent: Trustee Ferris
Chair: Trustee Leonard

1. Approval of the Agenda: Approved.
2. Approval of the Minutes: [Minutes were not provided as an attachment. They were included in the Education Policy attachments January 7, and not available unless individuals brought them along.] Approved.
3. Business Arising From the Minutes: None.
4. Presentations: None.
5. Superintendent’s Report

A. Graduation  Rates

 In accordance with the School Act , Section 22(1) (b.1, every Superintendent of Schools must, on or before December 15th of a school year, prepare and submit to the Board a report on student achievement in that District for the previous school year. The School Act, Section 79.3, requires a Board’s  approval for this report no later than January 31st of the school year after which it will become a public document.

Superintendent Gaiptman presented a Powerpoint report and took questions. The local paper, the Times-Colonist, covered the report  in a  front page story.

  • British Columbia Adult Graduation Diploma : Granted by the Ministry of Education upon successful completion of the provincial adult graduation requirements. Sometimes referred to as the “Adult Dogwood Diploma“.
  • British Columbia Certificate of Graduation: Granted by the Ministry of Education to students who meet the British Columbia secondary school graduation requirements. Sometimes referred to as the “Dogwood Diploma” or “Dogwood”.
  • British Columbia School Completion Certificate: Granted by the Ministry, a School Completion Certificate is awarded to a student who has successfully completed the goals and objectives contained in his or her Individual Education Plan, in accordance with the requirements set out in Ministerial Order 205 / 95 Sometimes referred to as the “Evergreen Certificate” or “Evergreen”.
  • Programs such as summer school, Fast Track, a “credit recovery” program that runs in December and June, offering courses such as English 10 in 18 days (see Michele Jacobsen’s review of Ben Levin’s book “the Kids Cannot Wait”, Education Canada Vol 52, No4 for a favourable mention of “credit recovery” programs), and AVID  (a San Diego based “College Readiness” program offered on computer)  contribute to student success and the graduation rate.
  • A variety of reports on School District 61 can be found on the Ministry of Education “District Reports” page.

Discussion followed on the “usefulness” of a “fail” grade. A member of the public referred to some parenting writers on resilience who see failure as a source of ultimate strength. The short debate raised interesting points and questions.

Alfie Kohn, a respected education writer based in Boston, says

  • ” More than smarts, we’re told, what kids need to succeed is old-fashioned grit and perseverance, self-discipline and will power. The goal is to make sure they’ll be able to resist temptation, override their unconstructive impulses, and put off doing what they enjoy in order to grind through whatever they’ve been told to do. (I [Kohn] examined this issue in an earlier essay called“Why Self-Discipline is Overrated.”)
  • “Closely connected to this sensibility is the proposition that children benefit from plenty of bracing experiences with frustration and failure. Ostensibly this will motivate them to try even harder next time and prepare them for the rigors of the unforgiving Real World. However, it’s also said that children don’t get enough of these experiences because they’re overprotected by well-meaning but clueless adults who hover too close and catch them every time they stumble.
  • “This basic story, which has found favor with journalists as well as certain theorists and therapists, seems plausible on its face because some degree of failure is unavoidable and we obviously want our kids to be able to deal with it. On closer inspection, though, I [Kohn] think there are serious problems with both the descriptive and prescriptive claims we’re being asked to accept. “

Perhaps Lyndon Dorval, the Edmonton high school teacher fired for giving a student a zero on an assignment that was not handed in, is on the other side of the argument. The Edmonton Public School Board has since drafted policy that allows teachers to give zeros.

6. Finance and Legal Affairs

A decline of 189 students across the district had been projected, but an increase of 140 students offset that prediction leaving the District with a decline of 49 students. Funding  comes from the Ministry of Education on a per pupil basis.

The Ministry reports on District funding on the K-12 Funding Allocation System page.  Aggregate funding for all 60 School districts in BC is approximately $25 million.

School District  61 Partner Groups are asked annually to submit budget priorities. This 16 page document is posted on the SD61 website.

A. 2012-2013 Funding Update

  • As of December 14, SD61’s final operating grant was $152, 066, 143.
  • SD61 gained a funding increase of $1 million for the special education “envelope” (funding for “FTE”s – full time equivalents)  in Ministry funded categories “low incidence”, “severe behaviour”, and “dependent handicapped”, but lost the Ministry Funding Protection Grant ($1.6 million). So although the headline might read “Increase in Ministry Funding for Special Education”, it is offset by an even greater funding loss.
  • Funding category amounts for Special Education as of 2002 are described as “current” on the Ministry website.  Private schools also receive public tax dollars to support students with special needs.  As well, “[f]or the 2008-09 school year, the B.C. government provided $217 million in operating grants to independent schools, according to an overview on the ministry’s Web site.” This situation continues.
  • A few targeted areas including Aboriginal Education and Adult Education received $1,245, 745 in increased funding. Increases in FTEs were recorded for Aboriginal Education students (up 109 FTE).
  • Overall, the SD61 GVSD (6 municipalities)  student population is still predicted to be in decline for 2013-2014, but the decline is slowing, and student population numbers are expected to stabilize in 2014-15.
  • The Ministry of Education holds back some District funding for every District each year, until enrolment counts are complete after September 30 and for the second semester of high school. Although School District budgets are not due in to the Ministry until June 30, District 61 plans a final budget by early April . Every year this “holdback money” is a different amount, which creates planning challenges.
  • Boards never know what may be held back from the holdback, either, so holdback funds are not factored into budget . Holdback funds are applied to SD61’s structural deficit (currently $8, 639,000) for the next year, when they are received.
  • This year, concerns raised around the province informally include the possibility of the Ministry of Education clawing back the provincially negotiated 1.3% CUPE support staff salary increase (negotiated with the Province) that the Minister “expected” to offload to Boards via a “savings plan” Boards were supposed to develop. After letters of outrage from nearly every Board all over the province, the Minister backtracked on that idea (which might have been avoided if he had consulted with BCSTA and  BCPSEA) but that money still could be taken from the holdback funds.
  • There are rumours that the Ministry may now take membership fees for BCPSEA (formerly paid by the Province, a required membership for Boards) from this holdback amount. Worst case scenario:  the entire amount could be held back. That’s  the nature of this capricious funding regime. On the other hand, some wonder if there might be a pre-election festival of funding largesse.

8. Public Disclosure of In Camera Items : No In Camera meeting.
9. New Business / Notice of Motions

A. Nohr: That the Board [etc] request senior administration to [sic] provide an updated document for each department (same format as used at the trustee orientation) for the February 2013 OPPS meeting.

  • The document was provided at the meeting [surprise!], but was not included in the advance packup sent to Trustees. Why the motion was included on the agenda when the agenda was being set, when the information requested was slated to be provided is not clear. Provision of the backgrounder and a word to the mover in advance could have taken care of that. Nohr withdrew the motion.

Nohr: That the Board [etc] send a letter to the BCSTA provincial executive, requesting that a letter be written on behalf of trustees, expressing disappointment and concern with the recent downloading of teacher pension costs to school districts and ask that the funding for teacher pension costs come from a different source. (Nohr clarified “copied to all Boards , addressed to the Minister of Education”.)

  • The Board Chair noted that this had already been referred to in the Board’s letter via the Chair, dated December 17, 2012.  Nohr withdrew the motion. Why this motion was even placed on the agenda by the agenda setting committee is perplexing. A word to the mover in advance could have taken care of that.

McNally: That the board [etc] add an additional page to the SD61 website for Board press releases.

  • It was pointed out that there is already a page for this purpose. And yes, there it is, right under “About Us”. Oops! Mea culpa – didn’t do my homework on this one.
  • What happened to the motion?
  • Right. It was withdrawn, making three motions in a row that didn’t need to be on the agenda. A word to the mover in advance could have taken care of that.

But this process obviously has to have some meaning in some way that’s not entirely clear, as it happened three time in a row.

McNally: That the Board [etc] make available the audio recordings of Board meetings be publicly accessible on the SD61 website via the drop-down menu “Board of Education” / Board Meetings, through a link placed above “Public Meeting Process”.

Not exactly.

This is what I sent in: That the audio recordings of Board meetings be publicly accessible on the SD61 website via the drop-down menu “Board of Education” / Board Meetings, through a link placed above “Public Meeting Process” .

For a change of pace, this motion was not withdrawn, as the function does not already exist.

Highlights of the debate:

  • This should go to the Ad Hoc Committee on public engagement. [The one with no meeting dates yet – the Board Chair reports that the first meetings is hoped to be scheduled for the end of January; the two members of the public have been selected- and no timeline to report out.]

Moved Orcherton: That the audio motion be referred to the Ad Hoc Committee on public engagement.

Defeated. For (referral): Horsman, Leonard, McEvoy, Orcherton  Against: Alpha, McNally, Loring-Kuhanga, Nohr.

Discussion followed: [Many concerns could have been addressed if recording Board meetings had been discussed in public amongst Trustees and the public in a Standing Committee before starting the recordings, via a motion, instead of starting up  with no notice to Trustees or the public apart from a sudden small print addition to the bottom of agendas.]

  • Concerns were expressed regarding collection of student information during the student presentation portion of the Board meeting. However, it was pointed out by a Trustee that collection of information privacy laws don’t apply to public meetings. Under FOIPPA, information can be collected at a public event that’s open to the public and at which the person voluntarily appears.
  • A member of the public noted that number of municipalities post audio files of meetings.
  • One person thought these recordings should not go on the SD61 website.
  • A proposal: recording should only start from when the business portion of the meeting starts, after A.4 Student Achievement .

Moved Alpha: That the question of recording be referred to the Board meeting of January 21 for consideration at that time.

Carried. For: Alpha, Loring-Kuhanga, McEvoy, McNally, Nohr [check official minutes for this vote count]. Against: Horsman, Leonard, Orcherton.

Discussion followed the motion and vote: Concerns remained about “legal obligations” so the Chair announced that recording will not be done of any student presentations.

  • [Trustee comment] The next issue will be what technology is allowed in the Board room during Board meetings?
  • Research needs to be done on the topic.
  • It looks like people are not engaged if they are using iPads and phones.
  • People use technology for on the spot research, much like looking in a book, which most people don’t seem to object to.

10. General Announcements: None
11. Adjournment: 9:25 pm

Next post: Regular Board Meeting, Monday January 21 / 13

No iPads Allowed Except in Classrooms
No iPads Allowed – Except in Classrooms