Board meeting – Jan 23

Highlights from the January 23 board meeting – there were no decisions but information was provided.

Don Fiddler, the District Principal of Aboriginal Education, presented “Shared Success” a review of the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement 2016-21.

The superintendent’s update included:

  • The additional $4.4 million resulting from the Supreme Court case will fund 96 FTE positions.  Allocations of staff will be communicated to schools this Friday, part-time staff can apply, then any remaining positions will be posted by mid-February.
  • BC Hydro has proposed to build a new electricity substation under the VSB school site at Lord Roberts Annex downtown.  The VSB has not made any decisions on this proposal and will closely follow the BC Hydro consultation, a district staff person will attend each public event to observe and listen.  An independent sub-contractor will prepare a safety report.
  • Van Horne students learned about Coast Salish culture and traditions as they helped carve a post featuring two salmon swimming upstream.  The master carvers, Splash and Harry, taught how they reveal what’s inside the wood through carving.
  • The new downtown Crosstown Elementary has started registering students and priority will be given to in-catchment students.

Isabella Preite, the student trustee, reported on VDSC activities:

  • High school students will be surveyed about school start times.
  • The VDSC is exploring ways to get students (especially those who are 18  by the provincial election date) excited about voting.
  • An Arts Gala is being planned for the spring, tentatively on May 10 at Magee.
  • A march against discrimination is being planned for the spring, tentatively in March.

The three committee reports had no decision recommendations and the only update was that the VSB has met with the Kingsford-Smith Elementary PAC about their seismic upgrade timing. Work will start on the school’s exterior after spring break but students will stay on site until the end of the school year. In September 2017 the school will move to temporary accommodation at MacCorkindale and Champlain Heights for one year while the seismic work is completed.

Questions/answers included:

  • Advocacy for adult education funding:  Communication will continue as in the past.
  • Special Advisor’s report:  The VSB is communicating with the Ministry about their expectations for a response – this will come to a standing committee.
  • Budget:  The amended 2016/17 budget will be presented at the February Finance & Legal Committee V meeting. The 2017/18 budget will tie in to the strategic plan and look forward five years – this is a more complex process and the process (which will include opportunities for public input)/timeline may come to a special Committee V meeting.
  • Adequate funding for the SCC court case:  The VSB has given input through BCPSEA.
  • Two motions regarding VSB properties reported from private session:  No further information can be given.
  • 2014 VSB report on possible impacts of BCTF Supreme Court case:  This report was provided in camera and cannot be made public.
  • VSB investigation into unsafe workplace allegations:  The report is delayed and now expected in February due to the sudden death of the investigator’s husband.
  • Sustainability Action Plan:  A report will be presented at the March Committee I meeting.
  • Safety of BC Hydro proposal:  It is anticipated that the name of the independent sub-contractor can be put on the VSB website.
  • Advocacy:  There is ongoing communication between the official trustee and the Ministry, for example a meeting with the deputy ministers for capital and finance.
  • Renaming Macdonald Elementary:  This process was temporarily suspended but will restart.
  • General Gordon Yellow Schoolhouse:  The VSB has ongoing lease discussions but nothing is resolved including any additional costs for retaining the building.
  • Maquinna Annex:  The VSB is considering potential uses and is in discussion with potential lease candidates.
  • Long Range Facilities Plan: The “Appendix P: Possible Timeframe for Implementation” that covers competing seismic upgrades by 2030 is being revised.
  • Mitchell Island fire:  Quick and appropriate action was taken immediately – schools were advised and actions included closing ventilation systems and windows.


Support for School Success Partnership, reporting/communicating student learning, early Mandarin bilingual program

Highlights of the January 4 Education & Student Services Committee include:

Support for School Success
This partnership program operates at the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre and supports a smooth transition to Kindergarten and improves access to healthcare.  Referred vulnerable students/families take part in assessment and reporting before they enter Kindergarten so supports can be in place when they start school in the fall.  Families are invited to sessions at Ray-Cam and the healthcare and education professionals co-ordinate their meetings at this one location.
In 2016 there were 37 referrals, most from the local daycare or preschool staff, and all the children had at least one follow up, for example dental, vision, speech language, public health nurse, speech language pathologist, or pediatrician. For the VSB 10 students were assigned MoE designations before the end of September funding deadline and all students will be monitored by their school based teams.
In 2017 another set of students will be referred, VCH and RICHER are considering expanding this model in our area and in 2016 the Provincial Office of the Early Years identified this program as a promising practice.
I’m very pleased to learn more about this partnership program that supports some of the VSB’s most vulnerable students entering Kindergarten in Tier 1 schools.


Reporting and Communicating Student Learning
The report details the Ministry requirements and the VSB’s preparations to implement new practices.  For most students parents will continue to have a minimum of five reports, three formal written reports and two informal, such as conferences, emails, or phone calls.  Some schools have already moved towards new practices and here parents must be consulted/informed of changes and the school must provide information from current report cards (letter grades, etc) if requested.
A steering committee and working groups will be set up to revise VSB policy and implement changes for K-9 students, changes for 10-12 students will follow, with implementation in the first term of the 2017/18 school year.


Early Mandarin Bilingual (EMB) Program Transition to Secondary
This Norquay Elementary program has 173 students in K-6 and the first students will move to secondary school in September 2018.  A survey of EMB families showed that continuing a Mandarin bilingual program is their most important factor in choosing a secondary school.  The VSB will need to decide on a suitable secondary school location, the secondary course content and the percentage of instruction in Mandarin.  An EMB secondary transition committee will be formed to look closely at these factors.


Stakeholders asked questions about the programs and the structure of the proposed committees.

K-12 and adult education enrolment

Enrolment was on the agenda for the January 4 Committee I meeting.

The report gives updated enrolment and projected enrolment up to 2031.  A slow decline in the number of students is anticipated until 2030 and, based on my neighbourhood experience, lack of affordable housing for families with young children is a huge factor.  We have seen, and continue to see, many families move to Richmond, Burnaby and Surrey, and this is true for both renters and buyers.
The percent of students attending public school has remained stable for the last 10 years, at about 83%.
Elementary and Secondary District Choice Programs are listed by enrolment and by far the most students are in French Immersion.
Numbers are given for Out of Catchment enrolments from 2012-16, including the number of students, and the percentage of students by regular (not including district choice programs) and total enrolment.  More students are attending their catchment schools in 2016 than 2012, 77% compared to 75%, and so the numbers of out of catchment students are declining.
I believe that every catchment school can provide an excellent education for most students (there are district programs for students with special learning needs) and would like to ensure that all families know that their neighbourhood school is a good option for student learning.


Adult education
Once again the numbers of adult education students are disappointing and in particular the number of graduated adult students dropped sharply in 2015/16, to a third of the level in the previous two years.


This two-thirds reduction, about 2,000 students, can be tied directly to the May 2015 removal of provincial funding for academic courses and the introduction of a $550 course fee.  The provincial government has put in place a financial barrier for students wanting to upgrade their high school academic courses to access post-secondary education/improve their employment prospects and this barrier should be removed.


Committee stakeholders asked about the distribution of K-12 international students by grade and the number of courses students take in Grades 10-12.  Data was not immediately available but will be provided.
Questions were also asked about the financial viability of adult education with the new graduated adult fees, and how capacity is calculated.  Some stakeholders also expressed their dismay at the province’s lack of support for adult education and called for advocacy to reverse the cuts.
A stakeholder also requested an update on the Living Wage report that came to Committee I in 2016.

Seeking to represent Vancouver-Langara as a Green MLA

I am seeking the nomination to become a Green Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in my home riding of Vancouver-Langara.

Here’s the media release that captures my motivation to run:

The lone Green elected to the Vancouver School Board (VSB) in 2014 – serving as the swing vote on School Board – and one of nine trustees dismissed by the Minister of Education in October last year, Janet Fraser is seeking the BC Green Party nomination in her home riding of Vancouver-Langara.

After the recent dismissal of the locally elected VSB Trustees by the BC Liberal Minister of Education, Fraser is running to champion public education amongst other pressing provincial issues. Says Fraser: “In 2014, I ran to become a VSB Trustee because I care deeply about Vancouver’s students and our public education system. As a trustee I always based my decisions on what is best for our students and believe that my hard work, evidence-based and considered decision making, building of respectful relationships and effective advocacy have served them well. Now that all nine locally-elected VSB trustees have been dismissed by the Minister of Education, I am taking this opportunity to champion public education, good governance, meaningful climate leadership and an inclusive 21st-century green economy in my campaign to become the next MLA in my home riding of Vancouver-Langara.”

Janet was born in the UK and completed all her schooling there, earning B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Chemistry from the University of Bristol. She moved to Vancouver in 1993 and worked as a research chemist, project manager and at-home parent for her three children before being elected in 2014. Janet has lived in Marpole for 15 years and is active in her community, with ten years’ of experience in elementary school PAC leadership, engagement in the City’s Marpole planning process, and volunteering for her children’s hockey, soccer and baseball teams.

Janet hopes to become the BC Green candidate and, ultimately, MLA for Vancouver-Langara and is looking forward to campaigning. She notes: “I am excited to be seeking the BC Green Party nomination for Vancouver-Langara and appreciate the support of both my family (this will be more experiential social studies learning for my school-aged children), friends and Green supporters as I undertake this journey. I look forward to meeting and learning from Vancouver-Langara constituents as I work to become the next MLA for this riding.”


Crosstown Elementary

The Planning & Facilities Committee (II) and Special Board meetings of December 14 led to the new elementary school at International Village being named Crosstown Elementary, with the naming committee to be reformed in the school’s first year to consider the addition of an aboriginal name.

The name Crosstown does not resonate with me but the naming committee had broad representation including from the school and local community. As such I respect their recommendation for a name that is meaningful for their neighbourhood.  There are many good reasons to pick many of the 39 names suggested by the public as they would reflect either the location or the area’s cultural history:


At the Planning & Facilities committee meeting stakeholders generally supported the naming committee’s Crosstown recommendation but many also wanted to reflect Vancouver’s aboriginal cultural history.  For example, VESTA (Vancouver Elementary School Teachers Association) recommended that, after consultation with the local First Nations community, the VSB select a name that reflects Aboriginal cultural history.  Several other VSB schools have dual names including Grandview Elementary/¿uuqinak’uuh and Point Grey/stəywəte:n Secondary.

Given that the VSB has made a commitment to reconciliation I believe the school naming/renaming policies should be reviewed in light of this commitment.


Crosstown Elementary construction in March 2016.



Board meeting – Dec 12

Routine board business came forward from committee reports:
Approval of three new secondary courses, International Studies 10, Photography 10 & Exercise Science 11, and approval of the Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) that lists all payments to trustees, all employees with a remuneration more than $75,000, and all suppliers of goods and services paid more than $25,000.

There were reports from private/restricted board meetings, including that two decisions had been made about VSB properties.  No further details were given so at the next board meeting I will ask for the properties to be identified, as well as the nature of the decisions.

The Official Trustee Dianne Turner reported on the VSB Heritage Committee, which is considering seismically unsafe schools with significant heritage value.  The members are getting to a common understanding of heritage school issues, for example the province does not provide any heritage funding during seismic upgrades and the cost of a heritage upgrade is often significantly more than building a new, safer school.

Question period had six questions, with three of mine, International Village, General Gordon and Special Advosor’s reported $1 million error:

  • Financing for the new International Village elementary school.
    The construction bids were higher than the pre-tender estimate and as the Ministry would not cover this unanticipated capital cost the previous board approved borrowing $1.6 million to move forward with construction. Staff reported that the Ministry has not given the required approval for the VSB to borrow this money, that it will be needed to complete the school, and that discussions are ongoing with the Ministry.
  • Supreme Court decision.
    Meetings are ongoing between the employer’s representatives, BCPSEA, and the BCTF.  There is no information about what the impact will be in Vancouver.
  • Fentanyl crisis.
    VSB is working with Vancouver Coastal Health and following their guidance on any actions to take.
  • Carleton Elementary fire.
    The insurance adjusters are working on this but there is no news.
  • General Gordon Elementary commemorative plaque.
    The VSB is responsible for the wording on this plaque.
  • $1 million error reported in Peter Milburn’s Special Advisor report.
    This “error” was a difference in opinion between the VSB’s auditor (the province’s Deputy Auditor General) and VSB staff that was resolved in the 2015/16 audited financial statements, as discussed at the September 21, 2016 Finance & Legal committee.  This relates to the classification of leases – the auditor accepted the VSB’s opinion that they should be considered operating leases and reported using the actual interest rate for the VSB, not a hypothetical rate available to the province.

Financial update, SOFI report

Highlights from the December 7 Finance & Legal Committee (V) meeting:

With the numbers from the first three months of the 2016/17 financial year, July/August/September, the projection to the end of the financial year, June 30, 2017, is an estimated $0.81M surplus on a total budet of about $500M.
On the plus side, the September student enrolment (compared to the budget estimates) reduces expenses, the income from 2016 summer school was greater than expected, and the province provided a small transportation grant.  Increased costs were the unfunded Administrative (Principals & Vice Principals) salary increases, rentals shortfall from Maquinna, Henderson & Laurier Annexes, and costs for the school closure process.


In response to questions:

  • The Principals & Vice Principals salary increases were not known when the budget was prepared.
  • The amount of the closure costs was not known when the budget was prepared and now the closure process is suspended the costs cannot be recovered from closure cost savings.
  • The additional PeopleSoft costs are not included as they were offset by other budget savings, they were expenditure neutral when implemented.
  • The full number of graduated adult students will come in the second quarter, Oct-Jan numbers will likely be higher than Jul-Sep.
  • The projected surplus/deficit is highly dependent on the September enrolment count.
  • Maquinna Annex is closed and not leased, there may be a tenant by July 2017.
  • Henderson and Laurier Annexes have no students but are not formally closed. Their operational cost savings are in the budget but they are not anticipated to be leased this year; they may be used by the VSB for seismic swing space or storage, and could be quickly reactivated for enrolment.
  • There are no budget numbers for the fire-damaged Carleton Elementary as the insurance is still being worked on.


The SOFI (Statement of Financial Information) report for 2015/16 was presented.  This includes:

  • All payments made to trustees
  • Renumeration and expenses for employees that are more than $75,000
  • Suppliers of goods and services where total payments are more than $25,000.

Staff noted that renumeration does not equal take-home pay or gross pay as it includes the value of benefits, and that expenses may include expenditures required for emplyees to perform their job functions – both as required in the provincial legislation.


In response to new business/inquiries:

  • The Official Trustee answered that the question “Why was the Special Advisor’s Report called a Forensic Audit?” would best be directed to the Minister of Education.
  • The Special Advisor’s report says there was “discovery of a $1 million error for the fiscal year 2015/16”.  Staff replied that the auditor and the VSB agreed to disagree on the interest rate to use in the financial statements – VSB asserts that the correct rate is the one it actually uses and not a hypothetical rate – and that this issue has been dealt with in the financial statments and the auditor’s report.  There will be no change to the surplus carry forward.

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

Aboriginal Education Dept update, special needs student support website, new courses

Highlights from the December 7 Education and Student Services Committee (III) meeting:

Shared Success – Don Fiddler, District Principal of Aboriginal Education, gave an update on the work done to date by the Aboriginal Education Dept in 2016/17 and plans for the remainder of the year, referencing the Second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement (2016-21) and Strategic Plan goals 1C, 3C & 3D.
It was reported that there is good progress on improving attendance in 2016/17 but the 2016 high school Dogwood graduation rate was disappointing at 63% (83 total students) – the three previous years were 78% in 2015, 79% in 2014 and 66% in 2013.  It was suggested that the low rate could be due to students moving or leaving the district and that affordability could be an issue as the most marginalized are often the most affected.  I think it would be helpful to look at this more closely to ensure there is a good understanding of this drop in graduation success.
In answer to a question students, most often through thier parents, self-identify as Aboriginal, and can do so at any point in their during their school years. And to another question, staff have not yet acted on a March 7, 2016 board motion about a Centre for Aboriginal Education, Culture and History.

Aboriginal Education Department update:

The district’s new Special Needs Student Support website was presented, aligning with Stratgic Plan goals 1A, 2A & 2D.  The intent is to provide a site where parents, staff and community members can access information about the VSB’s services and supports.  It was developed with feedback from the VSB special education advisory committee and staff in the district.  The website is a work in progress and feedback from families and staff, especially for the “Frequently Asked Questions”, is looked for.  A translation “plug” is being investigated for the site.
In answer to a question, one aspect of the Strategic Plan is to review the different VSB programs but a timeline has yet not been set, and this would be separate from any response to the recent Supreme Court decision.

Three new courses were recommended to be approved in line with Strategic Plan goal 1 “Engage our learners through innovative teaching and learning practices”.  The new courses are International Studies 10 and Photography 10 (2-credit), both at Churchill, and exercise Science 11 at Kitsilano.  The committee’s student representative was very pleased with these new courses.


For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

Strategic Plan and Standing Committees

Highlights from the Committee I meeting of November 30 include:

The five-year 2016-2021 Strategic Plan, unanimously approved in October by the elected nine trustees, was presented.  The VSB is hoping that this plan can help build a common vocabulary within the district to achieve the four goals more quickly.  It is expected that the plan will evolve over time – the guiding principles and goals will likely be unchanged but the priorities and actions will evolve over the five years.  It is expected that committee reports will reference the Strategic Plan, and that at a minimum there will be an annual progress report to Committee I.
Two VSB stakeholder representatives raised the point that Goal 4 “Provide effective leadership, governance and stewardship” includes “Advocate for public education” and that it will be important to see advocacy in this district.
A VSB stakeholder representative was pleased that discussion in one of the VSB’s internal advisory committees had already referenced back to the Strategic Plan.

I am pleased that the Official Trustee appears to be embracing and moving forward with the approved Strategic Plan as it was developed by a thoughtful process with considerable input and collaboration with VSB stakeholders.

A workshop to consider stakeholder communication, e.g. by standing committee and VSB internal advisory committees, has been arranged for all VSB stakeholders to act on Goal 4 “Support effective communication, engagement and community partnerships”.  The intent is for stakeholders’ voices to be heard at the beginning of the process and to learn what is and isn’t working well.  A report on the workshop will be presented at a future Committee I meeting.
A VSB stakeholder was nervous about standing committee discussions because of some of the governance recommendations in the most recent Special Advisor’s report but welcomed the opportunity to provide advice to the employer, and hopes openness is maintained.

I appreciate that the VSB is looking for input from stakeholders and look forward to the workshop report.

In response to a question about the student enrolment data presented at the last board meeting it was noted that the data is posted in the Superintendent’s Update.
A question was asked about the Aboriginal Focus School and how the VSB is supporting this school and community – there will be a report back at a future meeting.

Strategic Plan:

Student enrolment data:

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see:

Board meeting – Nov 21

It was very strange to be at the one-trustee board meeting as a member of the public but I have had many such adjustments since all nine former trustees were dismissed last month.  My hope and expectation is that no matter who is on the board student success in safe schools will be the focus in our district.

As this was the first board meeting with the Official Trustee Dianne Turner she talked about her background in education, and in particular her time as a teacher, vice principal and principal in Vancouver.  Acting Superintendent John Lewis also spoke to his educational background as well as his temporary role in assisting the district and supporting the superintendent to return.

Student trustee Isabella Preite introduced Roger Wang, the Vancouver District Student Council (VDSC) Student Issues Officer.  Roger’s role is to bring specific issues occurring in schools to Isabella’s attention and they will work together to raise them at the board.  Isabella also reported on her attendance at the Ontario student trustee conference and the annual secondary school CANley cup competition for non-perishable food donations.

Acting Superintendent John Lewis spoke in detail about the recently approved five-year strategic plan – the vision statement, objectives, priorities, actions and performance targets that will be implemented and reported on.  I appreciate that this board is embracing the new strategic plan as it was developed with input from all VSB stakeholders through a careful and deliberate process.
He also reported that this year’s FTE student enrolment is about 250 lower than last year, in line with the projected enrolment.  The decline in enrolment is slowing, from about 900 and 600 in the previous two years, but as the Grade 11 and 12 cohorts are bigger than the quite consistent K-Grade 10 cohorts the next two years might also have declining enrolment.

The 2016/17 budget, as proposed and implemented in June, was passed.  The Interim Secretary-Treasurer Guy Bonnefoy said a broader five-year budget plan was being developed and that the 2017/18 budget process will continue to include consultation.  The Official Trustee Dianne Turner spoke to the need for predictable provincial funding, especially when planning a five-year budget, and the challenge of provincial funds being released late in the budget process as happened twice last year.

The Official Trustee Dianne Turner had requested that the City of Vancouver allow VSB staff to take on the liaison roles previously held by trustees at City advisory councils, but Council voted to allow former trustees to continue as non-voting members. The VSB will ask the City to reconsider as the former trustees no longer represent the VSB.  I think it would be helpful to have both former trustees and VSB staff liaisons attend these meetings.
I will continue to try to attend (there is often conflict with VSB meetings) my three City advisory committees, ATPC, UAPAC and VFPC .

Questions were submitted and it appeared that all those with a submitter’s name were answered:
How many secondary classes are over the maximum class size? This information was not available at the meeting but can be sent to the questioner.
Are the enrolment numbers for headcount or FTE?  For K-Grade 9 headcount is the same as FTE.  For Grades 10-12 funding is by course count and data is FTE.
Will a letter be sent to parents this year about the FSA?  No decision yet.
The Strategic Plan talks about strong community connections – will Britannia be used as a role model?  No details on community connections yet.
Is seismic mitigation funding available from the federal government? The VSB will work with the province to see if more funding is available.
Will the VSB rejoin BCSTA? The cost, about $80,000, and benefits will be considered in the 2017/18 budget but funding is very tight.
Process for naming the new elementary school at International Village? There will be another naming committee meeting that will consider any new input before the next Planning & Facilities Committee (II) meeting.
Advocate for adequate funding?  First priority is for predictable funding so can plan for 5 years.
Can changes to the board meetings be made without going through committee?  Yes, within bylaws and policies.
Can the notices of motion be dismissed?  Yes as there was no one to speak to them.

This meeting had a large audience and I appreciate the interest in how our district is moving forward.  The next board meeting is on December 12.

For full agenda and minutes (when posted) see: