Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Susan Semonick On Schools - Trustees Board of Education Meeting Report of April 15, 2008

The School Board meeting overview is available to view at the school board’s website and the Langley Times comments on the board meeting are viewable in their recent articles on-line and in print.

It seems that some recent Board meeting comments has pushed at least one trustee to the edge. A Trustee leaving the Board office after adjournment of the meeting was still overheard commenting on some of the statements made at the board meeting.

Some trustees may be comfortable in claiming that the remarks made were simply as a statement of what has happened in the past. But in the view of many of the people in the gallery, many comments were not considered to be constructive or helpful at all. People are told to move on, but then in turn patronizing comments are made that stir emotions up.

Any after the fact comments essentially characterizing poorly on the conduct and attitude of those parents who have been speaking out with concerns about what this board has decided to do with HD Stafford Secondary and the surrounding elementary schools is not high road in my opinion.

The question I have to ask is: Is the ability of taking the high road missing from this School Board’s leadership toolbox?

On other matters,

Concerned citizens still have not received the answers to their questions. In response to questions asked during Question Period, they were told that the answers could be found at the Budget Open House on Tuesday, April 22, 6:30 pm to 8pm at the school board office. I hope that Mr. Greenwood will be able to direct people to the proper part of the binders that will be available for viewing as per Chair Burton’s statement that it would be available to the public.

Just after the budget presentation, Mr. Burton made the following statements (taken from recorded transcripts). My general observations about his comments follow each statement.

Burton: "Would we like more money from the Provincial Government? Yes, we would.”

Susan: They need it for the automatic raises they will get again in December to top up the 34% raise and another 9.5% raise they have had since 2006.

Burton: “Was it easy to close five elementary schools and reconfigure Stafford? No. It would have been easier to do nothing, like some of the other districts and to cater to a vocal minority and let other students quietly go without added resources. "

Susan: Like when they made their decision to expand the fundamental program too soon.

Burton: “We could have left students in a split 5/6/7 class. We could have left some high schools to deteriorate so that they were not sustainable.”

Susan: Now they are likely to be split 3/4/5 classes. What is the difference? High schools - as they have done with Aldergrove Secondary? Will it be the next school closing or will it be another elementary? I suppose he meant sustaining DWP, as it was never included in the review.

Burton: “We have again this year decided to spend a large portion of the surplus on more services for special needs students.”

Susan: Why do they bother consulting anyone further about budget? Sounds like they have already made up their minds.

Burton: “We must however be careful of a trend in society and our community where special interest groups lobby only for their narrow focus.”

Susan: Special Interest Groups - isn’t that what environmentalists, anti-smoking campaign, parents of children with autism, anaphylaxis, etc. were called once? Isn’t that democracy in action? Haven’t society’s priorities changed for the better because of some of the SIGs? Aren’t they sometimes the conscience of society? What is he telling students?

Burton: “We as a board must continue to focus on all our students’ needs. That’s why I am proud of this budget and our long term planning as we are focused on the entire district."

Susan: Until they cap their indemnities when closing schools, I do not believe this is true of their focus no matter how proud the chair is.

Board Chair Burton also made some comments about the budgets of the City and Township in comparison to the budget of the Board of Education. Does he perhaps wish to see a similar reduction on those councils if the Board of Education was to be reduced by two trustees, considering the size of the budgets each deals with? That may be a thought, or better yet make the Board of Education regional. This move would save us millions in tax dollars that could be put into classrooms and health care. Would that be the best move for our students and community? That is left to be seen. It appears many of the politicians in this community are afraid to even discuss these items in a public forum.

The Board does spend a major amount of our tax dollars. That is why it is important that you have a board that listens to its public, not criticize them every chance they have. Not one of the trustees has yet publicly stated an individual objection to the amalgamation of the electoral ballot though. Perhaps this is the one issue upon which there is consensus on the Board? Wouldn’t that be ironic?

The Board seems to believe that it can shoot off letters to universities to tell them what to teach our teachers, but when it comes to advising the Minister of Education about what would best serve their public, the Board states that this is not within their mandate. Strange isn’t it, that when the rubber hits the road, how flat this board has become. It is time for a tire change people. Remember, even if you reside in the City you can run in the Township for a trustee seat and vice-versa. Many people are saying ‘enough is enough.’ Let’s do something about it. Get the public out to the polls. Make sure everyone l8 yrs old and over gets their voices heard. Better yet, go to and sign the petition. Or, let us know where you stand with amalgamation, yes or no -- reduction of two trustee seats, yes or no - via e-mail at

The changes this board makes determines the future of our children. Voters should realize the impact the Board of Education can have and make the changes necessary at the ballot box to get a board that actually represents its people.Thanks to this board, a growing number of the public are becoming even more critical of trustee actions than ever in the past. It is looking like it is only their personal opinion that trustees are interested in addressing. One trustee felt it necessary to cover their face in an act to show total frustration when some members of the public asked questions. That trustee should reconsider their decision to re-run. It seems the four who made the difficult decision on reconfiguration are done. Are they perhaps burnt out and should they take a long-deserved break and let others make the decisions for our youth? It seems that the long speeches they are making now in an attempt to substantiate their recent decisions only serve to infuriate the public who do not want to waste time on politicking during time allotted for district business.

Update from last report
I received the information I had requested in regards to the March 28th meeting. Apparently, the particular trustee’s e-mail was not working at the time although other board members did receive the email request. I thank Mr. Greenwood for his expediency in sending the pertinent information during a time when he is swamped with the budget.

Building for the Future report for North Langley
Mr. McAvoy’s report can be read here.
I will wait to comment until after the June 17th board meeting when the district staff reports back to the board with their recommendations. There was mention of middle schools, new schools, and expansion of REMSS. Now we wait to see what Senior Management comes up with out of this report. James Kennedy Elementary parents might want to be on the watch for a boundary change on the east side of its catchment area.

Special Needs Follow-up
There was a lot of talk about what the district is doing to meet the needs of the identified special needs students. Needless to say, the various partner groups have differing opinions on this. The report can be found here.

Proposed budget
An interesting note - apparently I failed to realize that we must add to the cost of a trustee, Canadian Pension Plan contributions to the tune of $7,279, which comes out to 1,039.86 per trustee. I think that amounts I stated regarding the saving from reducing the number of trustees is closer to the reality of $50,000 for two trustees.

Other News
Student Appeals Process
It appears that there could be a motion to delay consideration of the Student Appeals motion until the June meeting in order for partner groups to have adequate time for input. Good idea and parents should take note. Much like policy 1204 which not many took notice of until too late, this policy could affect many families and needs to be scrutinized to ensure student and parent rights and obligations are made plain and simple. The parameters should be clearly defined in understandable language. A preliminary look at the draft policy suggests that further work needs to be done to achieve this.

Respectfully Submitted.
Susan Semonick

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