Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Board meeting- outcomes (May 11)

As predicted- big agenda, long night!

The four motions last night all received a fair amount of debate. The one of most interest to the public (perhaps) was the special tax levy. The Board discussed issues such as:
  • low public support for additional taxes (both historically and in the current economic climate),
  • the condensed timeframe to communicate the need for the additional money (between now and October),
  •  concerns about this happening right in the middle of a board change-over due to the election with several trustees not returning and how that would impact our ability to effectively engage in a dialogue with Edmontonians,
  • the cost (time and money) of mounting a public awareness campaign,
  • whether the upgrading of approximately 8 buildings on the Capital Plan over 3 years would "touch" enough people (Trustee Gibeault introduced an amendment to use half the money to eliminate transportation fees and half to upgrade buildings. This was defeated.).
  • the possible damage to EPSB public relations,
  • the timing of this coming so soon after contentious school closures
  • the damaging perception of low public support for funding public education should the levy fail.
In the end, the motion was defeated 7-2 (Ripley and Shipka for, everyone else against.) For me, I felt the timing was not right and that to give a plebiscite any hope of passing, a Board would need to commit to three years of dialogue with the public prior to asking for money. There is no doubt that we have a serious problem of deferred maintenance ($240 million of deferred work!), but the public is, by and large, unaware of the issue and it will take some time to build understanding. The on-line comments posted in response to the Journal article on this topic, show a great animosity (some of it unnecessarily personal in nature towards Trustee Ripley) and also a great level of misunderstanding about how we are funded and why this problem exists in the first place.

The other motions:
Trustee Shipka's motion to limit the amount of time trustees can speak in a debate to twice for 3 minutes each time.... passed (6-3). I voted against this. As did Trustee Colburn and Trustee Fleming. I did not vote in support because I feel it will place unnecessary constraints on debate, take up precious energy in enforcement, create anomosity on the Board as people are cut off and ultimately, it won't reach the goal of shorter meetings because the other issues that contribute to long meetings have not been addressed. The long meetings regarding school closure were cited as indicators of the need for this new policy. However, in those instances, many hours were taken up with administrative presentations, administrative answers and comments from the public. The real problem, in my opinion, was looking at 6 closures in one night...not how long individual trustees spoke. In any case, this is now the new rule- I need to find a stopwatch.

Trustee Esslinger's motion re: creating a policy for attendance boundaries passed. I can't remember the vote... I believe 8-1, with Trustee Colburn dissenting. The problem seems to center largely on the new ASAP schools, where people assumed they were going to be able to attend one of the new schools, but then found out they were just outside the catchment area and so they have been designated instead to another school. In some cases, they will need to drive by several schools before they get to their designated school. This is due to the Planning Principle that says students will be designated to the nearest school that has available space for all the public school students in their neighbourhood. The aim, as I see it, is to develop a policy and accompanying regulations to clarify to our public the values and principles used to make these decisions.

RE: Trustee Colburn's motion regarding a series of annual reports on district work, as identified with input from the Board, be posted on the district website no later than the end of September.
The idea of posting annual reports on the website, so the public can see when we are dealing with key issues, had warmth from the Board. An amendment was proposed by Trustee Gibeault: "That annual reports on District work be posted on the District website". I voted against the amendment, as did Trustee Colburn, as we both felt that the Board should have some input on which reports would be included. The amendment was passed 7-2. The next vote (on the amended motion) passed 8-1, with Trustee Colburn opposing. I voted in support of the final motion, because it was the only one left on the floor and I felt that the issue of transparency had been won and it was an important step in the right direction.

Other outcomes:
A very complex and detailed transportation report was submitted....a communication plan is being developed to condense this information and make it accesssible to the public. It appears, if the signalling from the Province is accurate, that rather significant changes in transportation funding are coming soon. A strict 2.4 KM eligibility may be enforced. So, if you live closer than 2.4 KM from your school- our District would not receive funding for your child to ride a bus. This would eliminate many of our current eligible riders and therefore eliminate a huge percentage of our transportation budget. (Our transportation budget is currently 70% provincially funded, 30% parent funded through bus passes).  The other provincial rule change that will have a profound impact is a requirement to attend your designated school to be eligible for funding. As you may know, approximately 50%  of our students choose to attend a school other than their designated school. Our system is built on choice and it appears as if that choice model will no longer be supported by provincial transportation dollars. We are looking at various options to deal with these rather significant funding changes, including modifying our service delivery model. If the province changes its eligibility requirements (causing our revenue to plummet significantly), the status quo is not possible without increasing the parent paid fees to unacceptable levels.We will also be expressing deep concerns to the Province regarding these proposed changes and how they will impact EPSB students and parents. Stay tuned for more info. This will take some further discussion!

Bus pass increases- $43 goes up to $48, $24 goes up to $27. This passed 7-2. I voted against the increases because I do not feel assured that we have sufficient mechanisms in place to address issues of poverty. I have heard anecdotes of families that have one bus pass for several children, who, as a consequence, come to school on alternate days. This is completely unacceptable in Canada's richest province. There should be no barrier to accessing public schools- least of all, financial. Principals at schools are instructed to cover the cost of bus passes for families who cannot afford them, but this does not happen in all cases, due to tight budgets at schools or unclear guidelines about who "qualifies". I want to have a discussion about sliding scales for bus passes, so those who can least afford them are not forced to choose between bus passes and food. We must fully recognize the disadvantaged in our society and ensure that their needs are met. To do any less is to fail to meet our moral responsibility.

All policies passed their readings, unanimously. I was very excited to see the Environmental Policy come to light. Some of you may recall that I put forward a motion to develop and overarching Environmental policy a while back. It was debated and eventually sent off to a Trustee Retreat for further discussion. It never made it back to the public board table, but it was picked up by our administration and developed....and le viola! a policy. I'm so proud to see it in writing.

A presentation from Mr. Mahammed Accord from the Somali community, asking the Board to advocate for the mandatory age to be increased from 16 to 18 years. He spoke of the challenges facing the Somali youth, including a high drop-out rate, violence and gang activity and stressed the critical role education plays in creating options and different pathways for youth. Mr. Accord has been a tireless advocate for his community and, in particular, the Somali youth, and I salute his dedication!

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