New Education Minister – Rob Fleming

From what I’ve heard and read in the media Rob Fleming’s plans for public education are very promising and now his mandate letter from Premier John Horgan clearly sets priorities:

  • Fast-track enhancement to K-12 education funding.
  • Review the funding formula to develop a stable and sustainable model for the K-12 education system.
  • Provide additional annual funding to ensure students have the school supplies they need to succeed.
  • Create an ongoing capital fund for school playgrounds.
  • Make schools safer by accelerating the seismic upgrade program.
  • Work in partnership to build and upgrade schools in every region of the province.
  • Implement the new First Nations history curriculum, develop full-course offerings in Aboriginal languages and implement the educational Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
  • Implement BC’s new school curriculum and provide new technology, lab equipment, learning material and professional development support for teachers.

I also appreciate that the mandate letter for Melanie Mark, the new Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, addresses these K-12 issues:

  • Provide greater access to adult basic education and English-language learning programs by eliminating fees.
  • Work with the Minister of Education to support co-op, apprenticeship and work-experience programs for high school and undergraduate students.

In the very short term all school districts must be able to fully implement the restored language on class size, class composition and specialist teacher ratios following the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, so that all BC students can have a good start to the new school year this September.

I am pleased to read that Rob Fleming would like to see the return of an elected board and will meet with the VSB Official Trustee and officials from the City of Vancouver to discuss a possible by election.  However, an elected board must ensure a safe, respectful workplace in our district while working on behalf of our students.

With this change in government there is a great opportunity to change BC’s public education for the better and I wish Rob Fleming well as he takes on this exciting but also challenging portfolio.

 

Rob Fleming mandate letter:
http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/government/ministries-organizations/premier-cabinet-mlas/minister-letter/fleming-mandate.pdf

Melanie Mark mandate letter:
http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/government/ministries-organizations/premier-cabinet-mlas/minister-letter/mark-mandate.pdf

New education minister wants a re-elected Vancouver School Board. Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Courier July 24, 2017:
http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/new-education-minister-wants-a-re-elected-vancouver-school-board-1.21337611

New Minister Vows ‘Fresh Attitude Towards Public Education’. Katie Hyslop, Tyee July 25, 2017:
https://thetyee.ca/News/2017/07/25/New-Education-Minister-Vows-Fresh-Attitude/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_content=072517-1&utm_campaign=editorial-0717 

CBC Early Edition (1:41 – 1:52), July 21, 2017:
http://www.cbc.ca/radio/popup/audio/listen.html?autoPlay=true&clipIds=&mediaIds=1005613635515&U=%5Bobject%20Object%5D&contentarea=news&subsection1=regions&subsection2=britishcolumbia&subsection3=earlyedition&subsection4=&contenttype=audio

 

Vancouver Sun – VSB trustees accountable for toxic work environment

This post is my Vancouver Sun op ed published on June 15, 2017.

With the recent resignation of the Vancouver School Board (VSB) superintendent I’ve been asked, “What was really going on at the VSB? I don’t know what to believe.”

Looking back at the trustees’ behaviour I witnessed and reading the two investigation reports I believe VSB staff were bullied and harassed. As a newly elected trustee, I stepped into a pre-existing board dynamic that I found overly partisan and very challenging to work in, and did not fully realize the impact of trustees’ behaviour on staff.

Trustees have the right to ask hard questions, and should do so to better serve the district’s students, but along with that right is the responsibility to ensure that all employees have a safe and respectful work environment. The WorkSafeBC report gives four specific examples of inappropriate conduct or comments that a trustee reasonably ought to have known would cause staff to be humiliated or intimidated and were seen as bullying and harassment. The Goldner report accepts that relentless and aggressive questioning created a culture of fear in which staff dreaded their attendance at meetings where they would be expected to report to the Board, particularly if they knew that their recommendations would not be well received.

Some former trustees have minimized the reports’ findings. However, I see that the actions of the board and trustees that I observed were accurately reported (with one exception, the WorkSafeBC report says a motion requesting revisions to the school closure reports was passed when it was referred), I have no reason to doubt that investigators accurately reported witness statements, and the conclusions that VSB staff were bullied and harassed are clearly laid out.

Trustees are elected by the public and should be held publicly accountable for their actions. For both investigation reports I asked that any reference to me be made public and I am mentioned once in each report as part of the sequence of events. I am never named as a trustee with inappropriate behavior. However as one of the board’s nine trustees I do accept a degree of responsibility for the overall VSB work environment and with hindsight I regret that I did not attempt to curb other trustees’ disrespectful behaviour, especially in public meetings. I continue to suggest that all former trustees agree to have their information made public in both investigation reports so we can all be held accountable for our actions.

The investigations found that the school closure process was a key issue. In May 2016 trustees voted unanimously to direct staff to prepare a list of schools for possible closure. I voted to consider school closures not because I wanted to close schools but because our district was facing a financial crisis; $22 million in cuts to balance the next year’s budget and an anticipated $15 million cuts the year after. In September trustees voted unanimously for 11 of the 12 listed schools to move forward to the closure consultation process before the process was suspended in October.

The school closure process was carried out at the direction of the board. There is no justification for a trustee to say to staff at the well-attended September board meeting “See what you guys have created here. Look at this, you guys created all of this”.

Since the school closure process was suspended implementation of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling has required additional funding as well as more classrooms in many schools, but the financial crisis remains – this year’s balanced budget has $2 million in cuts, and over the next four years a deficit of $27.5 million is anticipated.

It is clear that a respectful relationship between an elected board and VSB staff must be established and this should be top of mind for anyone thinking of becoming a candidate in the next election. There are many difficult decisions ahead for our district, including balancing budgets, use of space in schools and achieving seismic upgrades, and Vancouver’s students need to have effective trustee leadership to best support their learning.

Janet Fraser was elected a Green trustee in the 2014 Vancouver School Board election and ran for MLA as the BC Green candidate in Vancouver-Langara.

http://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/opinion-vsb-trustees-accountable-for-toxic-work-environment

Provincial election – BC Greens candidate for Vancouver-Langara

I am very proud to be the BC Greens MLA candidate in my home riding of Vancouver-Langara and will focus on my campaign from now until the provincial election on May 9.
I will keep up-to-date with what’s happening at the VSB, for example by reading agendas, reports and minutes, but until after the election I will less frequently attend meetings and blog about what’s happening less frequently.
I am committed to public education, care deeply about our students, and seek to serve them to the best of my ability.

VSB investigation into harassment in the workplace

This is the media release with my response to this investigation.

The Vancouver School Board (VSB) released the full investigator’s report that found bullying and harassment existed at the VSB.

Former Trustee Janet Fraser, elected as a Green Trustee in November 2014, believes that Trustees should be subject to full public scrutiny as to how they undertook their governance role. As such she contacted the VSB to inform them that she consents to the disclosure of her personal information in this report. She has received confirmation that any personal information relating to her has been disclosed.

“This report concludes that the partisan behaviour of some trustees prevailed over trustees working collaboratively as a board and with VSB staff, which created a toxic and unsustainable environment for staff,” she noted.

“The report noted specific incidents where certain trustees seemed inclined to follow a political agenda rather than seek information on which to base their decisions and engage in thoughtful discussion to assist their decision making. With hindsight I realise I could have spoken up, especially in public meetings, to attempt to curb trustees’ disrespectful behaviour and to try to ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all VSB staff,” said Fraser.

“As a newly elected trustee, I stepped into a pre-existing board dynamic that I found overly partisan and very challenging to work in. I did not fully appreciate the impact that inappropriate behaviour by other trustees was having on VSB staff and, looking to the future, it will be the responsibility of all future trustees to create and maintain a safe and respectful workplace.”

Janet Fraser’s focus as a trustee was always serving Vancouver’s students; working to give them the best opportunities for educational success and making decisions in their best interests.

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/publications/Rosyln%20Goldner%20Report%20redacted%20Mar%207%2017.pdf

Board meeting – Feb 27

Notes from the February 27 board meeting.

The VSB public meetings to consider the BC Hydro downtown substation proposal, which will impact Lord Roberts Annex, have been moved back to ensure all reports are complete.  The Planning & Facilities Committee (II) meeting will now be on March 27, with the decision to be made at a March 28 board meeting.

The student trustee Isabella Priete reported on Vancouver District Student Council (VDSC) activities.  A new website is being launched and it’s all the work of Vancouver students.  This will give easy access to current information and give opportunities for student feedback.
The VDSC survey results have two main themes – students want more diverse opportunities to show their learning as there are many types of learners, and the timing of the school day, in particular a later start time.
As Isabella is a Kitsilano student she took part, along with 1400 Kits students, in the whole school assembly and pink day parade on Broadway.  Pink day gave a great sense of community as everyone at the school came together for this great cause.

All recommendations in committee reports were approved, and all were routine school board business.  For the amended budget it was clarified that the $50/student provincial funding is not included yet.  Legal fees have more than doubled compared to last year, primarily due to more freedom of information requests.  The fee recovery is set in legislation – the first two hours work are free and subsequent hours are charged at $30/hour, but these amounts do not cover the VSB actual costs.  The budget is moving from a one-year to a five-year plan, to tie in with the five-year strategic plan.

Questions:
Any targeted provincial funds received now that the amended budget has been approved will be recorded as such.  Any amounts not spent by the end of the financial year (June 30, 2017) will be recorded as a committed surplus.
Will there be more time for budget consultation if needed?  The schedule is as posted.
The VSB has received and is reviewing the independent investigator’s report required by WorkSafeBC.
The VSB will not prepare a restoration budget as they have moved to a new budget process with the intent to depoliticize the process.

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/board-committees

 

Gordon Yellow Schoolhouse

Highlights from the February 22 Planning & Facilities Committee (II) meeting.

I would like to think that an appropriate, fully funded use for the Gordon Yellow Schoolhouse is possible.  However, given the current poor state of public education funding, I could not support spending any VSB funds on this, or any building, not required for student education.

In March 2016 the elected board passed a motion that directed that the VSB seek proposals for retaining and restoring the Gordon Yellow Schoolhouse that included (1) the VSB be reimbursed for any incremental costs incurred, and (2) that the proponent assumes responsibility for all costs of planning, restoring, and future maintenance of the building in accordance with uses approved by the VSB and the City of Vancouver.
A second motion was that the board authorized the demolition of the Schoolhouse if no acceptable proposals are received by May 20.

At this meeting there were seven delegations.  Six delegations, local residents, a residents’ association and heritage groups, supported saving the building. The Gordon PAC said that the space should be used to the benefit of the Gordon community – the building should either be demolished to increase playground space or be used to benefit the school community, for example as daycare, pre-school or after-school community space.

The Official Trustee said that because the VSB heritage liaison committee has not discussed this issue any decision will come after the committee has met.

VSB staff, in answer to a question, said this space is not suitable for teaching students.  A teacher representative said any board money must go to students and is concerned about the amount of resources the VSB is committing to this building.

Finally, a stakeholder requested updates on the Kingsford-Smith, Jamieson and Carleton seismic and repair projects.

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/17_02Feb22_op_commII_item%208.pdf

Health & safety policy, shortlisting of On-Call teachers

Highlights from February 22 Personnel & Student Services Committee (IV).

WorkSafeBC requires that an organization’s occupational health and safety program be supported in the form of a policy.  The new draft policy and regulation were developed by the District Health and Safety Committee and are recommended by the District and Union partners.

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/comm%20iv%2017_02Feb22.pdf

VSB district staff is piloting an online assessment called the Educator’s Professional Inventory (EPI) to help shortlist On-Call teachers.  This is one of the tools to shortlist candidates including recent reaching evaluations and/or final practicum reports, education and references.  Only external candidates are required to do the assessment and all data is stored in Canada.  District staff are currently analyzing whether the EPI scores align with hiring decisions – which I assume will be reported back to this committee.

Teacher representatives raised a number of concerns including using a quantitative tool to assess people, how the test was developed, whether it would be useful for the VSB, whether the test is mandatory, timing out during the assessment, and the validity of the questions.  District staff will have further conversations with teacher representatives.

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/17Feb22_op_commIV_item%202.pdf
EPI information:
https://www.teachermatch.org/psychometric-policies-and-procedures/

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/board-committees

2016/17 budget update, proposed 2017/18 budget process/timeline & shortfall estimate

Highlights from the February 22 Finance & Legal Committee (V).

The 2016/17 budget has been updated with actual spending and revised projections to year end (June 30, 2017) with an estimated $1.04 million surplus, about one-fifth of 1% of the annual budget.  With budgeting to average, close forecasting and small contingencies there are no longer large in-year surpluses.  It is anticipated that any surplus would be carried forward to 2017/18 to address the estimated $12 million shortfall.

The SCC interim funding of $4.45M is not yet in the budget.
Legal expenses are more than double last year’s, primarily due to increased freedom of information requests.
Utilities budgets have been amended to reflect the cold weather.
Examples of non-cyclical items for sale and leaseback are furniture & instructional materials.
There are fewer International student refunds and this can be addressed further at the Education and Student Services Committee (III).

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/comm%20v%20item%201_0.pdf

The proposed 2017/18 budget process/timeline is similar to last year’s with the addition of an online survey for public and stakeholder input.  The budget will be presented on April 6.  What is different is that a five-year financial plan will be presented, to match the five-year strategic plan.
The Official Trustee will be asking the Ministry for clarity on district funding, as it needs to be dependable, adequate and stable for a five-year plan, and in the past it has been a moving target.
Staff commented that three years of education funding was announced in the provincial budget, and that they are assuming the amount announced only covers class size and composition funding resulting from the SCC court case, not any additional monies.

The estimated 2017/18 $12 million shortfall is made up from $9 million carried forward from previous one-time cuts and $3 million due to inflation and enrolment decline.

There could be news in the next couple of weeks about how the Ministry will move forward with the fire-damaged Carleton Elementary.

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/comm%20v%20item%202.pdf

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/board-committees

School calendar 2017/18

Highlights from the single item Education & Student Services Committee (III) meeting of February 1.

The committee stakeholders agreed with the two recommendations, the proposed 2017/18 non-instructional dates and changing the winter break dates to align with neighbouring districts, and the Official Trustee will approve the recommendations at the February 27 board meeting.

The non-instructional days are five ProD days, two with flexible dates, and two curriculum implementation days.  commiii_2017_02

The dates for the 2017/18 winter break, Dec 18 – Jan 1, were set in March 2016 but other districts’ dates were not fully confirmed.  Neighbouring districts have now confirmed Dec 25 – Jan 5 (last day of school will be Dec 22, first day Jan 8) and the primary reason to align dates is that many VSB staff are parents of school-age children and live in other school districts.

Some staff and parents have already committed to travel plans or vacation days based on the original dates and the Official Trustee acknowledged that changing the dates will impact these families.  VSB staff will sympathetically address such situations on a case-by-case basis for both employees or students.

Thank you to all the stakeholder representatives on the calendar committee, and for the student input, for your thoughtful consideration which resulted in a consensus on these recommendations.

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/17Feb01_op_commIII_item%201.pdf

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/board-committees

Strategic plan and enrolment projections

Highlights from the February 1 Committee I meeting:

“Why does the VSB need a Strategic Plan?” – to define priorities, assist decision making, to communicate with stakeholders, and to have a framework to support student achievement and well being.  Ten communication actions are underway and an action plan for the first year was presented.  A yearly update will be given at the June Committee I meeting and committee reports can address specific issues.

Stakeholders commented that they are very pleased to see the action plan to have focus and accountability. They also commented that advocacy is in the strategic plan – the Official Trustee envisions advocating for goals identified in the strategic plan that cannot be achieved, for example because of lack of funding. She will be writing to the Minister about the funding for adult education academic courses citing examples of graduated adult students who cannot access specific courses they need to get into post-secondary programs.

There was also a question about the seismic status of Macdonald Elementary – this is being looked at with the parents/school staff/ principal in the context of Ministry funding for a new school and/or another building – with the need to keep the integrity and excitement that’s currently at the school.

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/17Feb01_op_commI_item%201.pdf 
Strategic Plan:  http://www.vsb.bc.ca/vsb2021

The VSB is submitting its three year enrolment estimate to the Ministry this month.  For the past 5 years the estimates were within 0.3% of the actual enrolment for the next year.  K-12 enrolment is based on estimates from Baragar Systems while supplemental (IEP, ELL, Aboriginal, Summer Learning, Distributed Learning and Adult Education) enrolment is estimated by the VSB.  Funding impacts will be considered separately.

For the 2017/18 school year enrolment is estimated to drop by 227 K-12 students, with an increase of 52 elementary students but a decrease of 385 secondary students.  The number of Kindergarten students entering the VSB is several hundred lower than the number of graduating Grade 12s – this has been the case for many years and will continue next year, after which the decrease is expected to be smaller for several years.

There was discussion about special needs designations – last year’s audit ensures accurate numbers of current designations, there could be changes to designations, and the Ministry could be looking to review the whole designation system.
The discussion also considered the Supreme Court ruling – there is no news yet about September’s implementation but the VSB is communicating with the Ministry about the need to know as soon as possible as secondary students are choosing courses and placements are underway for both elementary and secondary district choice programs.

Report:
http://www.vsb.bc.ca/sites/default/files/17Feb01_op_commI_item%202.pdf 

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see: http://www.vsb.bc.ca/board-committees