Friday, September 10, 2010

LAST BOARD MEETING

It's hard to believe, but (all things being equal*) Tuesday, September 14 will be my last public board meeting.

* if necessary, we may call another board meeting for Sept. 28, 2010.

As you can see from the long list of reports below, it's a very long agenda. To be blunt, I've not had a chance to read it in full yet (as per our process, agendas are delivered to trustees on Friday evening and mine just showed up.)

However, I would like to draw your attention a report in the middle of the pack (with notes in RED) called "Tripartite Discussions on Sustaining Workforce". Although the agenda contains a lot of important items, it is my personal opinion that this report contains a critical decision for our board. It is a decision which may have profoud impacts on future boards.

We are being asked to vote on whether to authorize the ASBA (Alberta School Board Association) to represent school boards in a tripartite discussion with the Alberta Government and the ATA (Alberta Teachers' Association) about workforce stability and transformation of the K-12 education system. (The full details of this transformation will be unveiled when the new School Act is tabled in Legislature in the Spring.)

While it may seem a no-brainer that school boards should be included in these conversations and that the ASBA, as our provincial body and entity recognized as having the authority to represent school boards, is the logical choice to sit at the table (rather than having reps from 62 separate boards, for instance), there are several important considerations for our board. ASBA policy states support for provincial bargaining on issues of renumeration (salary, benefits, etc.). However, EPSB did not vote in favour of this policy. In fact, EPSB has long been a strong advocate for local bargaining. EPSB feels that local interests are better addressed locally and that moving to a provincial bargaining mechanism would involve losses in autonomy and responsiveness to local needs and circumstances. We have enjoyed great success under local bargaining and would very much like to continue in this manner. However, other boards (a majority) across the province feel differently; they feel the economies of scale with provincial bargaining would work in their favour. With smaller budgets, fewer staff, spread out over greater geography and no professional negotiators or labour experts on staff, they may indeed benefit from a pooling of resources and energies.  However, that is not the situation that EPSB faces.

As I mull over this decision, questions bounce around in my head: If we vote "yes", does EPSB now, in fact, endorse province-wide bargaining? Is this the end of meaningful local bargaining? I say "meaningful" because with the big ticket items removed from the table (and dealt with by the province), how effectively will local boards be able to negotiate the other details? If you take away all the big bargaining chips- are you at a disadvantage when it comes time to work on the subsidiary items?   What types of things will be brought to the table regarding "transformation" and will EPSB agree to these topics and positions or will we find ourselves a dissenting voice forced to abide by the position of the majority? On several issues, EPSB has a different view from the ASBA policy. ASBA policy, for instance, does not support full day Kindergarten and the funding for such programming. EPSB has a very strong view in opposition to this and in fact, we offer full day kindergarten to certain high needs schools, although we don't receive funding to do so. Our needs are simply different and how can we be sure that those needs will be well served in this format?

If we vote "no"- What will the impact be? How will our concerns and issues be heard if we have no representation? Will the negotiations proceed, regardless? Are we tilting at windmills to say that we wish to continue with local bargaining if the government has decided this is no longer in our purview? The Supreme Court of Canada decided that the Government is the deciding authority, not school boards, when the issue of authority was last questioned.

It will be an interesting debate on Tuesday night- one that strikes at the very core of the purpose and value of boards. If cannot tax and cannot negotiate contracts with our biggest employee group, I have to wonder: what will the primary function of boards be in the future?

I sense a desire to redefine the role of boards and trustees and I have been quite forthright that I believe change is inevitable and, indeed, necessary but I'm not sure if this is the change I want to see.  I'm never a fan of (what appears to be) moving decision-making into the hands of smaller groups of people.

But, it has been pointed out before- I am an idealist. And perhaps politics in no place for idealists!

Here are the full list of reports that are going to be discussed:
Delegation of Authority - Superintendent of Schools - 2010 Summer Recess
Report #15 of the Conference Committee (From the Meetings Held June 22 and September 7, 2010)
Board Evaluation 2009-2010 Summary Report
Motion re Florence Hallock School Attendance Boundaries
Process and Timeline of the 2009-2010 Results Review
Funds for 2011-2012 Professional Improvement Program
Budget Update (decision on how the additional 2.9% funding received will be allocated)
Foundation Report - Full-Day Kindergarten (good news on successful fundraising by Foundation)
Tripartite Discussions on Sustaining Workforce Stability (this is the report I referenced above)
Board Policy Review - AA.BP Stakeholder Engagement
Policy Review - HGDD.BP - Performance and Exhibit Opportunities in the Fine Arts
Policy Review - IF.BP - Safe, Caring and Respectful Learning Environments (deals, in part, with bullying)
Review of Board Policy AGA.BP - Recognition of Students, Staff, Parents and Community
Review of Board Policy JBD.BP - Protocol for Trustee Recognition at School or Public Events
Review of Board Policy JJ.BP - Assisting Community Organizations
Policy Review - EBC.BP - Emergency Plans
Policy Review - ECA.BP - Security and Vandalism
Sector Reviews: Update
Response to Board Request for Information (on transportation for children in care)

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