Monday, April 30, 2007

Langley School District April 24th Education Report by Susan Semonick

Another Long Meeting
Well, I attempted to get some of my suggestions out there. As usual there was not enough time. I had practiced my presentation and was within the time allotment but for some reason the final minute bell went before I got to the fourth page of my presentation. So, as a Board Report thismonth I will include the complete presentation.

There were about 300 people at this meeting. Still a good turn out, even though notice of the venue change to the gymnasium at Langley Secondary was sent out at 3:09 p.m. on the day of the meeting. Consultation and dialogue was the main request from all presenters.

Bradshaw parents understand their circumstance and the reasons for the probable closure of their school. Now, they are trying to ensure that their children are transitioned to Noel Booth along with their French Immersion Program. Some of them are actually relieved that they are the second school of many – at least they will likely be able to relocate to one school instead of several schools, which may become the case for other schools to follow. For, in reality, the last school on the list will not have that option.

The group of Librarians that created the “Library Information Skills Survival Guide” was applauded and recognized for being honoured with the Angela Thacker Memorial Award from the Canadian Association for School Libraries.

The Foundation did a presentation about what the money raised by the Wine and Cheese went to, which was a special needs equipment loan library at Simonds Elementary. Ronald MacDonald House was the main contributor. There was also a donation to Uplands Elementary for hearing impaired equipment. They are a major supporter of the school district and have been for many years even prior to the establishment of the Foundation.

There were 8 presenters - 2 from Bradshaw elementary, 4 from HD Stafford, 1 from LSS, and myself.

Mr. Fassbender was in attendance and he seemed quite disheartened by how the meeting was going.

Update Report on Class Size
There still are classes with over 30 students - one was the French Immersion class at LSS standing at 34. The teacher and administration are in agreement to allow this for, if they did not, some students would not be able to take French Immersion. I guess this is when the dollars come into play and why they cannot split the number and operate at 17 in each class. If they would do some of my suggestions they would have the money to do this.

Aldergrove Elementary Transition
The Aldergrove Elem. transition is going smoothly. The principal from Aldergrove will be the principal at Shortreed next year. Most students have chosen to attend Shortreed next year with about 12 students going to Betty Gilbert and 15 to Parkside.

Proposed 2007/08 Budget
With what appears to be little thought or debate the final proposed budget has been passed. Trustee Burton’s motion to add $35,000 for a psychologist and $15,000 for CUPE training and Pro-D to address staffing changes due to retirements was carried. Interesting that this was done by increasing the hold back amount, which is an amount that no one can really estimate or depend upon really receiving from the Ministry. But then as one trustee said, this is only a proposed budget and the real one will be dealt with when the students arrive in September, and that may be a gloomier picture.

Community Discussion Process for LSS and HDS communities
The community discussion process was discussed and altered and we will have to read it in the board news because the process was disorganized, it was late, and even the Trustees were not really clear about what they voted on.

The Foundation and School District Business Company annual reports were received. Comments are within my presentation.

One Trustee was really disruptive by making sidebar comments and really appearing to be discontent with the manner in which Mr. Burton was running the meeting. Maybe they will be the next chair, hope not. In June, I would hope that possibly Trustee McVeigh would consider this position.

Trustee Bech tried to put forth a motion to dissolve the SDBC, which was defeated along with a motion to look into the cost of doing such. This also was defeated. It appears she is the only trustee at this time willing to look at areas that do not affect the students. We can only hope that if the situation has not improved that the president of the company himself will recommend pulling the plug.

Notice of Motion
Throughout the night the gallery in the bleachers were very vocal in their attempts to get the trustees to rescind the motions passed at the last meeting regarding both LSS and HDS. By the end of a very long and confusing night, they managed to get there part way. One trustee made a notice of motion to rescind several of the motions from April 10th relating to HDS and French Immersion. It remains to be seen what will happen at the next meeting. To my mind this is just giving false hope and is irresponsible.

The following is the presentation I had planned to make to the Board on April 24th. As I stated, I only got part way.

On January 18th 2007, the Ministry of Education sponsored a forum on rural schools.
Representatives from all provincial partner groups tackled ten key questions.
I will address four similar questions in relation to Langley School District’s current consultations, educational issues, and proposed 2007/08 budget.
Question #1
Are there structures we can create or change that will enable the district to increase efficiencies and improve effectiveness, yet maintain a high level of service?
My answer is absolutely. I will elaborate on two changes that could be implemented.
The school district can streamline the structure regarding custodial services by reducing the number of supervisory positions and reconfiguring the shift.
This would provide an economic efficiency of an estimated $60,000 per year – over the course of the next five years this could amount to about $300,000 from the DDM.
Three years ago, a decision was made to add this expense to school budgets at a cost of $3.00 per student - regardless of whether your school had a problem or not. It probably costs much more now.
As I understand it, this position was originally temporary, and created subject to a review.
Last year, when I asked about the evaluation of the validity and effectiveness of having this position, I was told it was too soon to do that assessment. Well, I wonder when will it be soon enough?
If the hours of one supervisor were shifted, would the second of these positions be required?
If the position was created to monitor performance of workers, it has been three years and therefore, shouldn’t the problems be identified and addressed by now?
With the closure of facilities surely this means some of the workload will be alleviated.
Principals should be able to manage the staff in their buildings. This is a communications, staff training and performance issue.
What happened to “do your job and do it well “or “goodbye, you are easily replaced”.
Supervisory staff should be for the safety of children NOT to ensure job compliance.

Another structural change could be to centralize some services and programs.
The days of having at least one of everything at each school is long gone.
The district has recognized this and in recent years has been selective in the location and breadth of programs it has introduced.
We now need to go back and review the programs that have existed for many years that are now faltering for a variety of reasons as times change.
The district should look at consolidating services in certain areas. One area of possibility is in the delivery of special needs services.
What has been suggested are special centres within schools where special needs students could have the benefit of being a member of a class, as well as having access to more resources, and qualified, less stressed staff who have the opportunity and time to work together as a team.
The benefits are more in terms of staff collaboration, increased level of service to students, a reduction of staff travel time, etc., in essence, a better use of the funds the district is spending in this area to better serve individual students.
I am sure district staff is aware of various programs in other districts that are doing well in this regard.
There is much room for improvement in delivering better services to our special needs students.

Question #2
What are the 2 or 3 big things that need to be changed or eliminated?
Many would concede that it is inevitable that more schools will be closed, whether we like it or not.
However, if the district is looking to close schools, then the very least it could do is examine its practices at the school board offices and its association with other organizations – namely the School District Business Company and the School District Foundation.
Specifically, I call upon the Board to immediately cease all transfer of school district funds, all loans, all donations of cash and in kind services to the School District Foundation, and SDBC; AND in addition, to significantly reduce its monetary support to DPAC.
The annual report and financial statements of the SDBC and the SDF that are scheduled to be received for information this evening will not be news to anyone who has followed these tales of misadventure.
The SDBC, established in 2002 has yet to record any significant profit and in fact this year has a net loss of $8,774.
The directors have never received remuneration for their services. If we factor in an honorarium that they would have customarily received, as well as the outstanding loan to the School district, this is far from a success story.
The president of the SDBC acknowledged at the last AGM that this is a critical year for the company.
A trustee noted several years ago that a bake sale would have raised more money than the school district's business company.
Clearly, if nothing changes by the end of this fiscal year it is time for the sole shareholder (Langley Board of Education) to cut its losses and dissolve the company.

The School District Foundation is a far more serious concern, as it not only deals with funding but also with the issue of transparency and accountability.
The district should cease the annual transfer of funds, which for the year ending June 2006 was $75.000 and has increased this past year to $125,000.
It should also cease the provision of staffing to the Foundation that is valued at over $40,000.
The School District has charitable status and is able to issue charitable receipts.
Corporations as well as individuals continue to donate to school districts that have not established Foundations.
What the establishment of the Foundation and the transfer of school district funds to the Foundation have facilitated is the elimination of transparency and accountability.
In essence, as the Foundation and its directors are responsible for how the donations are spent, the school trustees are no longer answerable to the public for how the $125,000 is specifically used.
The criteria and decision-making is outside of the Board of Education and there is no opportunity for the public to question or hold the Foundation accountable for the spending of what were originally school district funds.
If the school district’s own donation, donations from the public targeted for specific school projects like playgrounds, and interest and expenses are deducted, then in 2005/06 the Foundation generated less in corporate donations than the value of the salary of the Executive Director which the school district is donating in addition to direct funds.
This is in effect a net loss venture.
The purpose of the Foundation was to generate corporate donations, NOT to solicit small local businesses that PACs have traditionally looked to for support. This is what Trustee Ross had promised would not happen.
If the district wants to support PALS, Rec’n Reading, Special Needs, etc. then do so and be accountable for where it spends its money.
There should be no decrease in corporate donations as the school district can still issue charitable receipts under its own tax number.
Stop the transfer of school district funds, and staffing and bring back accountability and transparency.
Now, let us address the contribution to DPAC.
The district’s annual contribution of $8,000, although deemed minor by trustees and district staff, is nonetheless funds that the school district does not need to spend – at least not as much.
At the current time, DPAC is financially secure. They receive $2,500 in direct access grants each year.
They also have a reserve of about $20,000 – certainly sufficient funds to maintain day-to-day operations for several years given prudent stewardship.
The school district provides copying services, office space, telephone service, meeting rooms, professional services support, in-district mail service, and some professional development for parents - all at no charge.
DPAC’s average annual expenses are about $6000.00. This includes approx. $1600.00 for BCCPAC registration fees.
DPAC could leave each PAC to pay this nominal fee of $65.00, as was the custom several years ago.
In which case, DPAC would need to generate or use reserve funds of approx. $2000.00 annually to maintain the current level of expenditures.
Elimination or reduction of the district’s current grant to DPAC would seem in order.
I see no reason why parents would not be willing to tighten their own belts, given we all are in this together and it is the students who will benefit.
Question #3
What are the 2 or 3 big ideas that need to happen by 2009?
By 2009, the trustee electoral area for the Langley Board of Education needs to be amalgamated so that each and every trustee of the Langley Board of Education is elected by all the constituents who live in both the Township and the City.
See this link for information and petition.

Trustees take an oath to represent and to work in the best interests of ALL of the students in the Langley School District.
The manner in which Langley School Board trustees are currently elected is not consistent with this commitment and the principles articulated in the School Trustee Election Procedures.
If the electoral areas were amalgamated every voter in both the Township and the City of Langley would be able to vote for all trustee seats on the Board of Education
The principles of voter parity and fair representation by population would be upheld.
This issue has become especially critical in light of recent statements made by the public regarding the expected obligations of “City “ trustees.
There is only one school district and all trustees are responsible for all students in Langley regardless of where they reside or who elected them.
Furthermore, the number of trustees for the school district should be reduced by two trustee seats.
This will result in an approximate saving of $50,000 as of 2008 annually that can be used to support students.
Question #4
How and which partners will work together to make these things happen?
The answer everyone in the community should work together.
However, working together does not mean only sharing information, and receiving feedback.
Working together means that everyone feels that they have been listened to, whether the parties agree or not.
Working together means a dialogue and many people feel this has NOT happened.
Although people recognize that the district has tried, your attempts have fallen short and have left many feeling unheard.
Throughout the consultations processes to date, trustees and senior management have stated that they are ready to hear and consider all options. There should be no sacred cows – everything should be on the table. Inclusive of Trustee Indemnities and automatic increases.
I challenge this Board to have the courage to take this first step in a long overdue conversation about amalgamation and reduction of the Board.
In conclusion…
The financial savings once all this is done would serve the students’ overall needs.
We will no longer have to play at being Donald Trumps and dream of making that million (or ten).
We will be able to deliver quality education within a specified budget and run things at the highest level of efficiency with no disruption to students.
We will be able to say we did whatever it took to get the job done.
Watch your pennies and the dollars take care of themselves.
Respectfully submitted by
Susan Semonick...

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