Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My motion re: capacity measures- script/outcome

Last night, we had some fabulous presentations from:
- CRUD/NET Team re: partnerships at Parkdale to enhance youth engagement
- The Multicultural Health Brokers re: developing an intercultural excellence program at McCauley
- Muttart Foundation regarding the particular needs at McCauley and the damage closure would inflict.
I was inspired by these presentations and the innovative alternatives to closure presented. BRAVO!

Here is the script for my motion last night "to, effective immediately, discontinue using the provincially calculated ACU as a capacity measure for sector reviews and have the administration provide a rationale to use either ACOl or OEL in its place until the new provincial capacity formula is approved."

First of all, perhaps it would be beneficial to start with some definitions for all the acronyms in my motion:

ACU- “Area Capacity Utilization” is the current mechanism used by the province to calculate the capacity of schools. It is primarily based on the square footage of a building.

ACOL- is a capacity measure developed by EPSB that multiplies the number of classrooms in the school by the number of children who should be in those classrooms, as recommended by the Alberta Commission on Learning class size guidelines.

OEL- “Optimal Enrolment Limit”, also developed by EPSB, is primarily being used to prevent overcrowding. This calculation further refines the ACOL capacity by taking into consideration the unique characteristics of a particular school and is developed through consultation with the school’s Principal.

In my opinion, ACU looks at school capacity through a province-wide lens. It is the 30,000 ft. view.
ACOL is capacity as seen through the District-wide lens. It is perhaps it’s at 5,000 ft.
OEL looks at capacity through the lens of the individual school. This is the ground-level view.

In my blog, dated Feb. 25, 2010, I articulated why I felt ACU was an inaccurate measure of capacity for sector reviews and possible school closures, by using the example of Delton School. Delton’s ACU is 650 students. When we take a closer look at the specific classrooms and configurations in Delton, 650 becomes an extremely unfeasible number. The ACOL capacity, by contrast is 480, a notable difference of 170 students. My guess is that the OEL for Delton would be lower still because of the particular needs of the students as well as the valued partnerships provided at Delton, all of which require space.

However, it has been noted that trustees are not experts in planning and certainly I would not expect my rationale alone to be sufficient reason to convince my colleagues.

So instead, I turn to the experts- our own administration. On June 17, 2003, an administrative report came before the board regarding the Provincial Utilization Rate and the District’s position on its limitations. I supplied copies of this report to my colleagues last week, but I also have additional copies here for anyone who would like one.

On page 1, third paragraph it states that “it is essential that school utilization rates are an accurate and realistic measure of how much capacity is available and how effectively it is being used at the individual school level.” At the bottom of page 1, it states while ACU “works well for setting standards for construction of new schools, there is room for improvement when calculating the capacity of existing individual schools.”

The report then goes on to articulate many shortcomings of ACU, including the fact that schools built before 1950 are, in essence, penalized for wider hallways, smaller classrooms and even thicker walls. This is certainly a relevant concern when we look at the CCEP schools, which all pre-1950, I believe. The suggestion from our administration, to correct this problem, is to count only instructional areas to “measure the true capacity of a school to accommodate students.”

Page 3 talks about lease exemptions, another relevant point to our upcoming school closure decisions. ACU does exempt non-profit leases however “the exemption is granted only for instructional space in the lease, not for the non-instructional support spaces required by the lease holders. It would be highly unusual for the district to lease part of a hallway or a portion of the school’s washroom even though the space is also required for lease holders.” The report gives a specific example of a daycare and after-school lease at a school which only yielded an exemption of 60 student spaces, when in fact, a more accurate exemption would have been 150 spaces. By adjusting the exemption to account for non-instructional space used by lease holders, the administration estimates the district utilization would increase by 2%. This is, I believe, relevant, as we look to calculate our excess space in sectors.

On the bottom of page 3, the report talks about special needs students and the fact that mild and moderate students are only deemed to require additional space when they congregated in entire wings of schools, as is the case in some rural jurisdictions. Our administration objected to this and recommended that “District sites with separate classrooms for mild and moderate special needs students be recognized for enrolment adjustment” This space exemption would also increase the District’s utilization by 2%, according to the report.

Further down the page, the report mentions kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs and recommends counting these students on the numerator of the ACU. It states that “There is no reason the use of schools should be limited to K to 12 only. This approach is also consistent with Alberta Learning’s philosophy regarding life-long learning.” I would add that although each kindergarten child counts as .5 FTE (based on being in the school half of the day), most of our CCEP schools offer full-day kindergarten, so these students should clearly count as 1 not .5

Community use is also suggested to be a critical component of capacity and I couldn’t agree more. The proposed solution: that “Alberta Infrastructure recognize that schools are accessed by the entire community and that they are well utilized not only by K to 12 students, but by many citizens of Edmonton. Recognition by Alberta Infrastructure of community use of schools would give a more realistic picture of how schools are actually used by the community throughout the day.”

So, clearly our administration feels there are some significant flaws in ACU and that it does not accurately reflect the true capacity of a school. They are not alone in their concerns. The Alberta School Councils Association has also been advocating for “Alberta Education and Alberta Infrastructure to re-evaluate the formula for utilization based on the actual opportunity for use of functional teaching space.” The response, from Minister Hancock, on July 24, 2009 stated: “the government will be reviewing the current utilization rate formula. Recommendations will be developed on several aspects of this formula, including instructional space and exemptions.”

Minister Hancock further elaborated on this utilization review in the Edmonton Journal article, dated March 18, 2010. “You cannot put a classroom in a wide hallway, just because you’ve got a wide hallway.” The article went on to say that “ in addition to neglecting the need for features such as music rooms or art classes, Minister Hancock said the current formula also fails to consider Alberta’s Class size initiative, which strives to limit the number of children to 17 for junior kindergarten to grade 3 and 23 between grades 4 and 6.”

The article quoted Minister Hancock directly on this point: He said: “If you’ve got a class-size policy that says you should only have 17 in the class, it doesn’t make sense to have a classroom where you calculate the capacity for 30.”

As well, Minister Hancock said they are looking at including the concept of housing additional services inside a school building. “We’re talking about daycare and after-school care.”

So, the Minister of Education also seems to agree that this formula is not adequate and needs revision.

So I ask my colleagues:

When our administration clearly feels that ACU is flawed…
When it gives trustees a distorted view of the actual capacity of a school…
When our Minister of Education agrees that needs to be changed and it will be changed….

I have to ask my colleagues- why on earth would we want to continue to use it?

On April 13th, we will be faced with some critical decisions regarding possible school closures. Having the clearest and most accurate information about the true capacities of schools, both those facing closure and those recommended to be receiving schools, will be essential to sound decision-making.

I urge my colleagues to support this motion.

In the context of the debate, Trustee Ripley introduced a substitute motion that "Until the new provincial utilization formula is approved that ACOL, ACU and OEL figures for schools be provided as information for the board in sector reviews." 

I argued against this substitute motion as I see no compelling evidence to continue using the notably flawed and soon-to-be revised ACU formula. The argument to continue with ACU was that it provides a picture of how large the physical plant is. I argued that using three capacity numbers will confuse the public and that it will not be clear how trustees are using the three numbers in the school closure discussion. Despite my arguments, the substitute motion passed and my motion was removed from the table.