Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Susan Semonick On Schools - October 30th School Board Meeting at CLA

The unbelievable has happened. This dysfunctional board has decided to adjourn until Thursday –venue to be announced. There were five delegations permitted to present - two from the Murrayville Elementary community, two from LSS and one from HD Stafford. A motion to allow an additional five presenters before the recommendations were to be considered was defeated by the expected four to three vote.

The Board received the budget update which included the wish list of what enhancements in services that they might consider but are likely not feasible any longer due to the estimated 1.6 million that the Board has to come up with to deal with the sudden change in the Ministry funding formula for part-time secondary students in grades 10 to 12. Previously, the Ministry used to give full funding for a part time student taking at least four courses, which enabled the school to allow students that wanted more courses to be able to do so. Now, the base funding for these students will be gone. This amounts to a loss of just under $3,000 per regular part-time student. The students who used to be able to take extras may no longer be able to do so. In 2005, as DPAC President, I brought this to the attention of the Ministry because of the new graduation structure. At that time, they said there was discussion on it but we were assured that it was not likely to happen. Now, here we are, after boards have set their budgets, the government has decided to cut funding.

The next budget concern that the Board will have to deal with will be funding (or lack of funding) for adult education, which they will be expected to take on in September 2008. Or, the Ministry may give back the 1.6 million that they clawed back for the part-time students to provide for the adult students. We will have to wait and see whether the Ministry will provide any transitional funding this year.

The Transitional District Literacy Plan was approved. Mr. Etchell called this a plan for a plan to implement literacy strategies to address literacy from pre-K to adults. The plan is based upon Four Pillars of ReadNow BC and involves a host of community groups as well as the school district. A copy of the plan was not available in the package but should be available shortly on the district website.

(c) 2007/2008 DISTRICT ACHIEVEMENT CONTRACT: TRANSITION PLANThe 2007/2008 District Achievement Contract - Transition Plan was approved. A copy should be available on the district website shortly.

Recommendation #1: That the verbal report on Elementary Schools in the South Central Area of the School District, was received for information.

It was stated that should they vote to change the James Hill boundaries so that some students would be going to Peterson Road, if the Murrayville School closed, all of Murrayville students would fit into James Hill. It looks like they are wishing to align all the new boundaries so they can proceed with their plan.

Recommendation #2a: That the addendum to the Proposed Reconfiguration of H.D. Stafford Secondary School and Langley Secondary School, regarding the option of establishing a Grade 6 to 12 configuration as a pilot program at Langley Secondary School, was received for information.

Depending on the vote on Recommendation # 3 it will determine if they should even be looking at this.

Recommendation #2b: Fine arts choice program at HD Stafford and Blacklock Elementary was received for information.

Again depending on the vote on Rec#3, I do not see why they even are receiving this information except to appear to be considering all information and options.

Recommendation #3: That the Board approve the reconfiguration of Langley Secondary School and H.D. Stafford Secondary School to establish a Grade 6 – 8, middle school at H.D. Stafford Secondary School and a Grade 9 – 12 secondary school at Langley Secondary School, effective September, 2008.

All trustees except Burton were able to complete their address on why they were voting the way they are going to. My guess would be 4 –3 to approve the recommendation. The addresses to the public were compelling from the Famous Four but one vital fact that is left out of all their reports is that it is known that if the community is not in support of a middle school it will not work. Because of actions by a few frustrated people, the four trustees have dug their heels in and are probably not going to vote no. For now, they in my opinion only probably feel they will lose face if they do so - that is what I got out of their speeches. They still do not have a dollar figure for this option.

A few trustees have taken offense at the public stating that trustees were not listening. When you do not reply or acknowledge receipt of e-mails etc. people do tend to think you are not listening or did not hear them.

To his credit, the Chair did not cut any of the trustees short during their comments on recommendation #3 even though all of them went over the 10-minute limit. Some have suggested that there might have been some filibustering going on but I did not sense that from any of them. The meeting was abruptly adjourned or recessed by Chair Burton - not sure which was the official stance. This occurred when the clock struck 11 pm and someone from the balcony interrupted the Chair and brought to his attention that they would have to make a motion to continue.

It appeared in my opinion that due to Chair Burton taking offense that someone was bringing the time to his attention, he may have lost it, along with others in the crowd at this point. I believe they were only trying to follow the process that Mr. Burton himself had used at the prior meeting. It was a highly charged meeting and Burton only wanted to be heard and in my opinion seemed to get frustrated with it all. It appears he does know how it feels not to be respected and not listened to. He reacted by adjourning and moving the meeting to another room. Only partner group representatives, senior management and the press were invited to the subsequent meeting. In the end, the meeting was adjourned to Thursday at 6 pm to a place to be announced on Wednesday.

Effectively the meeting would continue where it left off. The rest of the agenda will be dealt with on Thursday.

While the meeting is intended to end at 11:00 pm, this is not in policy. The public is not entitled to interfere with the proceedings of the Board meeting - only to attend and participate during delegations and question period. The Chair was attempting to continue with a motion that was already on the table and conclude business in a reasonable way, which is his decision. I expect that a motion to adjourn would have followed the vote. The undisciplined actions of a few people delayed the inevitable and inconvenienced the rest of the public who attended. The three trustees who remained should have adjourned to the other room, regardless of how they feel about recommendation #3. They are members of the Board and such should conduct themselves accordingly. Poor behaviour on both sides of the table.

Personal notes: As two trustees have stated, this Board is dysfunctional. The Minister of Education, on behalf of all the students in School District 35, must intervene. This has gone beyond the ridiculous. How can trustees make fiscally responsible decisions without knowing the financial cost of what they are voting on?

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