Monday, April 02, 2007

Langley School District Special Report by Susan Semonick - Education in Respect & Decorum?

Standing Room Only Crowd Witnesses Verbal Sparring - Students Now Well Educated


Unfortunately, the communications equipment was not working in the boardroom AGAIN. Therefore, most in attendance were unable to hear all that was being said. Strange that the district has put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the system and it still is not working. This has been going on for at least 4 years now. Get rid of the people who do not know what they are doing and get people who do. If it is as simple as knowing how to operate the system, I suggest that at the next Pro D day, they have all of the staff who attend the Board meetings trained in the use of it. The district has sunk enough money into this horror story that it is time to do something productive. I would even volunteer to take the training since I’ve been at almost every meeting since 1996.


There was an interesting presentation by Mr. McFarlane, a parent from HD Stafford.
He addressed the Building for the Future report that some people believe suggests HD Stafford is the secondary school that should be considered for closure. Mr. McFarlane’s presentation gave food for thought. It showed that if you target ‘optimum capacity’ instead of ‘110% capacity’, there is data that could suggest there would be no need for any closures. The target that was suggested was about 90% of physical capacity as optimum. This would require changing catchment boundaries. His presentation implied that large schools and schools at over-capacity have increased social problems (bullying), as well as a less desirable environment for socio-economically disadvantaged students. The presentation also included three options for consideration other than closing HDS.

There were a few presentations from parents of French Immersion students who were wishing to have the LSS FI program remain where it is. Apparently there are many FI students from Surrey attending LSS, as Langley’s FI program does not require that Math and Science be taught in French.

An HD Stafford Secondary teacher did a presentation about the importance of HDS and what the school has to offer. The most significant point made was that their students had a high level of academic achievement. That is a good way to argue your point. The other side is the high percentage of students who are actually involved in extra-curricular activities compared to the other schools.

The LTA is concerned that if the Board decides to go ahead with plans of making one of the secondary schools into a middle school, they allow enough time to have it well planned and take the time needed to train staff in order to be successful in this endeavor.

The presentations left me with the thought that if the district looked at the business end of things first and did the house cleaning required there, there would be no reason to look at secondary school closures at this time. They could wait till all scenarios for secondary schools could be considered as a whole district instead of only snapshots.

The Board voted to close Aldergrove Elementary and instructed Ms. Beaumont to ensure that both the Shortreed and Aldergrove communities are included in the transition process. It was made clear that parents had the choice of enrolling their children in any school which had available space and that all the schools in the Aldergrove area were coordinating to make the transitions as easy as possible.

Trustee Hogeterp is still not happy with the school Closure process. I am not clear why this is an issue for her. If you are looking at a process that will leave all people happy and none discontented, then I suggest you join Peter Pan in Fantasyland; otherwise it won’t happen.

Mr. McAvoy did his presentation and all information is posted on the school District site. Nothing new reported. It still suggests closure of one secondary school and at least 3 elementary schools in the South Central region.

District staff now have the task of taking Mr. McAvoy’s report along with all the information gathered from the consultations and making recommendations for the Board’s consideration by the April 10th Board meeting.

Modified school calendars for 2008/09 are up for approval and due notice was given. The interesting thing in this is that the school that has 10 less days of instruction in the school calendar is stated to have the one of the highest achievement levels. This would be HD Stafford. Langley Fine Arts, another leader in achievement and a successful district choice program, is requesting four less instructional days.

Gateway College was closed due to insufficient activity. It appears they are attempting to look at the business end of things with their action to close Gateway College. This was for adult ESL students, which was an offshoot of the district’s ISP program. The closure of this will not mean any loss of full time jobs.

The financial report again was verbal to the public and provided very little information. This seems to have become the norm since the departure of Patti Dundas - what a loss.
Now, if you don’t know what to ask for or look for, you get nothing. There was mention of the recent tabled changes to the School Act which reinstates a school board’s ability to charge fees for certain items. This will relieve some pressure on next year’s budget but the district is still faced with an anticipated increase of approximately one million dollars in expenditures because they will no longer be able to collect course fees.

The Purchasing policy #3602 was approved with practically no input from the public to such a key document, even though people had plenty of opportunity to send in their comments.

It appears that they are leaving the responsibility to the Township and City to come up with projects to qualify for the $125,000 grant. What a cop out and waste of the $5,000.00 given to the committee to determine this.

The report did not even acknowledge that proposals were received at the Community Forum in November, and it repeatedly stated that that was not the purpose of the forum. So, we end up with another expensive report on “the context” and nothing concrete to move forward with. The board is sadly failing its responsibility here. By now, they should have been able to have a few recommendations at their doorstep but as usual they are waiting for someone else to do the work. For improvement to infrastructures, which is what the grant is to be used for, one project that comes to mind would be the resurfacing and expansion of the WGSS track. This proposal that the committee and district staff is aware of is a WIN – WIN for the district as well as the Township. Let’s hope that now that the ball is in the Township’s hand, so to speak, that they will take it and run with it… hopefully on a new and improved track that will serve the community well and will also support the provincial government’s ACTNOW and 2010 initiatives. Having another adequate track also allows for greater opportunity for sports tourism revenue.

Bill 20 introduces a Superintendent of Achievement at the provincial level who has as one of his/her tasks to hear parent appeals of a Board’s Section 11 decisions. Section 11 of the School Act allows for parent appeals to the Board of any decisions made by a district employee that they believe negatively impacts their child’s opportunity for appropriate education.

An expedited motion to send a letter to Minister Bond expressing concern regarding the additional step to the Section 11 appeals process was approved by the Board. The Board is appearing to place their needs first before students. They do not wish parents to have an additional step for recourse before they go to court. Many parents who file a Section 11 complaint are unable to afford to go to court so they never get resolution and would want this additional step for they believe that boards are only rubber stamps for a Superintendent’s decision. This appears to be a standard attitude out there, which is sadly being proven to be true.

If the Provincial Superintendent has authority to address concerns and appeals, it gives the parents an alternative to court - this is a plus. For this Board to object to this additional step shows they have given very little or no thought to it. I see this as a further step by the Ministry to prepare for the elimination of boards. I wonder if they feel threatened with this and feel they should try and protect what little they had?

The 34% raises they have procured for themselves place them in a position for criticism at this time. Compounded by the actions of the chair at meetings, they have themselves to fault for the negative attitudes that are building out in the community.

Many complaints in regards to the consultation process were expressed. Chair Burton noted that this district is the only one apparently doing this type of information/consultation sessions. (This has not been verified so may be incorrect). There are several vital components I see left out in this district’s process.
1. An opportunity to actually discuss options in a public forum and receive answers - not only small table discussions.
2. The business entities should have been first, it is still going to be left to be seen whether they review them at all.
3. The district appears to have been selective about which school’s information was given out at meetings. They did leave out DWP, LFA, LFMS and LFE. The information is available but buried or has to be requested from the district. The Kindergarten enrolment numbers to date have not been published, however tentative they are.
4. They have created confusion and panic in the communities due to the manner and time line they have chosen. The entire process should have started earlier and planned to be completed by the end of June. Instead, the process carries over to a new school year, so some decisions regarding the third area (if any) are in effect left for another entire year and the full district picture is not considered before decisions are made. The timeline for information feed should have been compacted. People then would pick and choose what information they wanted. The interested and affected parties would also be able to see the full picture to be able to give insightful and well-informed recommendations.

I still say that Superintendent Beaumont is doing the best job with what she has to work with. What appears to be lacking is the inability of the board to understand what the public is asking for. One of the Trustees even admitted that she was confused about the information being delivered and yet another has stated that what was presented was incomplete.

The Board has approved this process and is not willing to digress from it. As usual the chair appears to be not willing to admit that things are not going as planned and there is a need to make changes. Yes, there has been speculation of what will occur. Yes, there has been a track record of this board doing all readings in one meeting and making decisions without interested parties being able to address what is being passed. Yes, there was error in the direction given to Mr. McAvoy. He is being paid to do the best job he has been hired to do. He has been paid approximately $20,000.00 so far to end up being a target of angry parents. And, yes, sometimes you cannot win for trying.

What did they expect - nice smooth ride? Their attempt at consultation is the only thing I can commend them on. Their lack of ability to divert or change course midstream or put the horsepower on when needed is the problem. They are so used to being lead by the nose ring that when given the opportunity to lead, they don’t know what to do with it. Again, the reason to go way of the dinosaur.

Before the process even started the district received input from DPAC, which recommended that LFA, LFMS and DWP be included. The district ignored the recommendation and deliberately left out these 3 schools. There is no indication from the documents posted on the district website that they extended invitations to these school communities except to include them in a general invitation to all the public, nor did they really include the statistics on them until these were specifically requested. They have inadvertently segregated these school communities from the rest.

Now they are buried in the piles of files that would appear incomplete. For them not to look at the whole district and provide full disclosure is giving the appearance of incompetence and predetermined outcomes. The people at the board offices who make the decisions on what or how recommendations are proposed and implemented are, for the most part, professional educators. They are all past teachers with the exception of the accountants. For these people not to be able to present information in a manner that can be understood by its intended audience, mostly parents, is questionable. They seem to be unable to understand the capabilities of the people they are trying to educate. This has me worried for our students; these are the same people who are responsible to ensure that the teachers are able to teach the curriculum to our students. If they are unable to educate and communicate with parents (who were educated by them), then what does that say for our educational system?

The Board meeting lasted until midnight.


2007/08 Budget Consultations (meetings) have started. Recommendations I offer for consideration are:

1. The donations of ISP funds to the foundation and SDBC for fluff needs to stop. This includes the staff time and resources. ISP funds would be better used for direct student services at this time, not for window dressing for business entities to appear good. The School Foundation was to support the district by generating outside corporate donations and NOT for the District to direct $125,000 of ISP funds along with the services of one employee at a cost of about $41,000, plus all the district resources being used, towards it. It is to be at arm’s length - so make it so.

2. The automatic raises trustees will be giving themselves should stop. I believe that they did not follow proper process (as I see it) to acquire this, and this is concerning.

3. Conflict of interest concerns rear their head where CommunityLink funding and Aldergrove Neighbourhood Services are concerned. This would affect any of our community schools. So we expect, in Trustee McVeigh’s next report, to have recusals recorded for any trustee whom the public may view as in potential conflict from budget discussions. They have received some complaints and have assured complainants that the chair will address this issue and ensure there is no possibility for a trustee to allow him/herself to be in that position. There is also a BCCPAC policy that has been presented to the Ministry to raise concern about this very situation.

Board Chair and Vice-Chair Nominations

Since the Board chair and vice-chair positions are up for nominations at the end of June, it is time for the public to make suggestions to the Board.

If the Langley Board chair of the group seems to lack respect for fellow board members, then how can the chair have any for the people who voted for him? A vote of non-confidence in the current chair's ability to fulfill obligations should be considered. Many believe that he was way out of line with his comment regarding Trustee Bech’s opinion on the information they received involving the latest Building the Futures report. The public gallery immediately recognized the impact and direction of his comments and immediately inhaled a collective gasp of disbelief which was clearly heard, and many ‘oohs’ and calls for an apology were hurled from the audience as well. I believe it is time that this person steps out of the chair position. The scene many students and constituents were witness to that night probably caused many to lose any respect for the chair. It is simply a question of public confidence of the board chair. This is not the first time this was done, but I think the public needs to make it clear that it should be the last. It is irony of the highest order when any board member does not meet the ideals of Langley’s Graduate Profile and yet is entrusted to ensure that all Langley students do so. Where is the leadership by example? I commend Trustee Bech, parents and students who questioned this behavior.

A vote of non-confidence should be in order for Trustee Burton. If Trustee McVeigh or Trustee Bech would be interested in doing the job, they would be respectful and would not alienate constituents in the room when major decisions have to be made.

On Another Note
It was reported recently in the Langley Times that Chair Burton believes that parent representatives on School Planning Councils are not elected. He was apparently commenting on the new provision in Bill 20 to require the approval of SPCs before establishing special academies at schools. For any of the trustees who are on their second or more term to admit that they do not know what is in the School Act is amazing. They are as effectual as an empty kettle (not good for much without water). Again that is why I see boards of education or school boards as they were known in the past to be an expendable entity. It would save millions to the province in indemnities and BCSTA membership fees. These funds could go to direct student services in the classroom. Having SPCs as decision-making bodies is something that could be a benefit to the students if applied properly.

Bill 20 is going in its second reading now. The whining and letters that are written from this Board to the Ministry of late that note their “concern” about the powers being given to School Planning Councils and the new Superintendent of Achievement are last ditch efforts to try to maintain what little, if any, authority they think they had. Too little, too late - the history of at least this board anyway.

Negative? -not completely. I do have a little hope left - that they will take a lead and make the decisions that need to be made to ensure the least disruption to students. It would be nice to have that on record before their exit. I have been told this is a pipe dream but at least I have some hope that they could do the right thing.

I have a recommendation for the news reporters at board meetings. Other than you should demand an audio system that actually works. You should sit amongst the people – that, in itself, will tell you a story. While it may be a negative one at this time, it is very relevant and revealing.

I cannot sit back and not comment on the article in the Times on March 28th (page 28) “Foundation Dollars Filling Education Gaps.” To have the district-paid employee stating the foundation is a model in raising funds for school programs across the province is hype. Until this Foundation is able to stand alone, with no assistance from the district, in my opinion it is not a true foundation. It is only a tool for the trustees involved to funnel money for their special interests with no accountability to the taxpayer. Take away the district’s donations of staff time and resources, along with cash donations of $125,000 from the district’s International Students Program this year alone, and the contributions from donors who were contributing to the District even before the foundation was established, and their profits, so to speak, are way overstated. They have set it up to funnel money to their causes so it looks good. Yet, those funds taken from the district and transferred to the foundation could have been used for direct student services. There is absolutely no reason why the district could not accept public donations directly - it has a charitable tax number – no reason that I can think of other than to skirt around accountability.

Susan Semonick

School Fee Legislation Press release.

Two new Bills in legislature this Education week.
Bill 20 is available at: http://www.leg.bc.cast_read/gov20-1.htm

Bill 21 is available here.

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