School Board Meeting – Tuesday, September 25th

The Board of Education will hold its regular public meeting on Tuesday, September 25th at 7 p.m. in the Boardroom located at 2100 Ferry Avenue. The board agenda package is available here: 2018.09.25 Regular Public Board Book.pdf

I have written a summary of the board agenda package along with some comments, and will be in attendance, as usual, in the back row next to a power outlet (the laptop I had been using wasn’t able to last out a typical board meeting, which is why I usually sit there). I look forward to meeting with other candidates at this time!

The public is always invited to attend, and it’s also important to note that the public can leave before the end of the meeting if desired. A video link is available, but typically not nearly as useful as being there is.

Possibly being added to agenda:

From what I understand, it’s possible that a report will also be made as to the preliminary results from the consultations around Duchess Park (potential Edgewood catchment move to Kelly Road, and French immersion and Francophone move to PGSS).

Public Input:

There is always public input available – people can come in advance of the meeting, write their name down on a list inside the door (by the stack of agendas), and speak for up to 5 minutes on a topic of their choosing. The board does not typically respond to any issues raised or questions asked at the time, but will respond later.

In camera (non-public) meetings

The board will approve their record of minutes of in camera (non-public) meetings. I note there are 11 listed on the agenda, which include “discussion regarding a request from an association”, “discussion and decision regarding personnel and governance matters”, “receipt of an update regarding a personnel matter”, “follow up conversation regarding consultation survey results”, and “follow up discussion regarding a submission to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services”.

I believe that it’s important that people be able to see and trust the decision making process, and believe that some of the items discussed in camera should be made public.

According to bylaw 1:

1.12 All matters coming before the Board shall be considered in public sessions except the following:
1.12.1 Personnel matters
a) Salary claims and negotiations
b) Efficiency, discipline or retirement of employees
c) Employee promotion or termination
1.12.2 Legal matters
a) Accident claims
b) Legal actions brought by or against the Board
c) Legal opinions respecting any matters which are to be considered in private session
1.12.3 Student matters
a) Indigent students
b) Student discipline
1.12.4 Property matters
a) Negotiations regarding purchase, lease or sale of property
b) Future site planning and designation
1.12.5 Investigations regarding possible school closures
1.12.6 Auditors’ management letter
1.12.7 Medical matters respecting individual students or employees

Beyond that long list of items that should be discussed privately, there are also two other options that allow for anything whatsoever to be moved away from the public:

1.12.8 Other matters that the Chairperson considers appropriate for initial discussion in camera
1.12.9 Such matters as the Board may determine

Trustees can always move items back to the public, by making a motion:

1.13 No trustee shall disclose to the public the proceedings of an in camera meeting unless a motion has been passed at the meeting to allow such disclosure.

1.14 A trustee may make a motion to place an in camera item of business onto the agenda of the public session and, upon the motion being seconded and discussed, a simple majority vote in favour of the motion shall be sufficient cause to move the item into the public session.

 

Record of votes:

This board has opted to record who votes in favour and against motions in the minutes, which was not typically done in previous board’s minutes – this board implemented it last year, which can be of assistance when going through old minutes to find out what happened.

Management and Finance Committee:

Pages 13 through 55 of the agenda package relate to the audited 2017-2018 financial statements, presented by KPMG. The 2018 budget was $158,693,943 revenue and $168,349,956 expenses (which would have required using previous year surplus money), and the actual amount was $159,507,484 and $157,105,854 expenses (which increases the amount of accumulated surplus). The district is well run when it comes to maintaining control over expenses, and projecting revenue and expenses conservatively. It will be interesting to note what was not spent – that’s over $11 million budgeted for that wasn’t spent. Page 37 shows that about $8.4 million of was instruction expenses.

There’s lots of interesting information available in the financial statements – for example, it’s good to note that the teachers’ defined benefit pension plan is currently in a surplus position (likewise the municipal pension plan), when an actuarial valuation is done. Province wide, the teacher pension plan has about 45,000 active members and 37,000 retired members.

Note 14 on page 36 shows the transportation contract with Diversified ($4 million a year), and the Kelly Road construction costs ($22 million in 2019, $11 million in 2020, and $3.7 million in 2021). Note 15 refers to contractual rights, such as the shared use agreement (such as the Prince George municipal agreement, so that community groups can use school buildings), and lease revenue.

The statements following break the budget down into operating expenses (the bulk of the expenses), special purpose operations, and capital operations.

Page 55 is a great page, as it breaks down what is happening with the surplus (money not spent in previous years). A large part of the surplus is “internally restricted due to operations spanning the school year”, which could be translated to mean that they’re setting money aside with plans to spend it later. For example, about $8 million is school based budgeting decisions.

I think that the “Comprehensive Academic Intervention Stragey” is an unfortunate typo, but funny.

Another part of the report from Management and Finance refers to signing authority, and I see that Darleen Patterson is now listed as Secretary Treasurer, and Hannah Brown is the Director of Finance. Congratulations, and best wishes to excellence in financial administration, to both Darleen and Hannah. Marie St. Laurent is also listed as the Director of Human Resources, which is also new – congratulations and best wishes also to Marie.

And we’re on to page 59 of 75! Difficult to tell how long that will take, but given that there is a KPMG presentation, I would assume that this point will be reached by 8:30pm at the earliest.

This section is the school district’s submission to the select standing committee on finance and government services, and is part of the board’s work in advocating to the provincial government for additional funding. Four challenges are noted:

  • Rural and urban (equitable access to quality public education in all rural communities)
  • Predictable and sustainable funding  (refers to the provincial review of funding model, and the province covering expenses that they have negotiated for and yet aren’t funding)
  • Students and families in poverty (vulnerable students and families need support to address both nutritional and socio-emotional needs of students, and recommending adoption and funding of a comprehensive and accountable provincial poverty reduction strategy)
  • Aging school facilities (the majority of school facilities are in Poor condition – although it must be pointed out that our maintenance and custodial staff ensures these schools provide clean, safe, and well maintained buildings and grounds – and the need for additional capital funding)

 

And thus concludes the Management and Finance committee portion of the agenda.

 

Education Programs and Planning:

There is a committee report, including a Ministry of Education update. Two items arising from the committee are:

  • that the board provide a letter of support for Prince George becoming an official Physical Literacy for Life community
  • that the board enter into an agreement with France for the purpose of education collaboration

The agreement would follow from the work of College Heights and Duchess Park in an innovation grant for Authentic French Learning, and involves teachers collaborating with French counterparts.

Education Services Committee:

The committee report refers to emergency response (evacuations, etc), capital and facilities updates, the Kelly Road project, and purchase orders over $25,000.

The facilities updates include a long list of projects, including radon mitigation, drink water (lead mitigation), hazardous material removals, accessibility improvements, roofing projects, painting, and much more, including a parking lot at Glenview (finally!), adventure playgrounds at Glenview and Valemount, parking lot upgrades, drainage, and portable installations at Springwood, and much more.

The facilities people are very busy during the summer.

Policy and Governance Committee:

Two policies are being reported on – a new policy on placing GPS units in district owned vehicles, and a possible revision to the winter weather policy, as requested by the PGDTA after February 2018. Both are ongoing.

Trustee Reports:

  • BC School Trustee’s association
  • Board Annual Self Evaluation – it will be interesting to see if there is anything distributed for this at the meeting.

New Business:

Nothing listed at this time.

Correspondence:

The move to a ward system for this district has led the district to request some additional funding from the Ministry to support a smooth transition. A letter to the Minister was sent June 20th.

 

The next school board meeting is held Oc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch in the Schools

I’ve had a couple of questions from parents about time given to children to eat lunch, and what my position is on that as a school trustee candidate.

My position on that is the same as when I, on behalf of DPAC, was bringing this to the school district last year, which is that elementary school students should have more time to eat lunch than 15 minutes.

There was some media about that, at the time (you can see me in the CKPG video):

The full lunch survey report is available from the DPAC website here: http://sd57dpac.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/2018-jan-30-DPAC-parent-lunch-survey.pdf

To quote from this report:

  • DPAC’s recommendations are as follows:
  • Increase the amount of time provided for students to eat
  • Look at merits of providing reverse lunches (play first, then eat)
  • Review adult vs. student lunch time supervision in classrooms
  • Engage in further conversation and communication about these issues

In January, DPAC said: “We urge parents and parent advisory councils to continue this conversation with the staff at their child’s school, and to remember that purpose of parent advisory councils, according to the school act, is to advise the board and the principal and staff of the school respecting any matter relating to the school – to be a stronger, collective voice of parents.”

As a trustee, this would be an issue that I would be very interested in pursuing. It will be important to do so in consultation with teachers, education assistants, and school administrative staff, but I believe it is everyone’s best interests to make sure that students have enough time (and food!) to eat, as a hungry child will have difficulty learning and concentrating.

 

Financial Hardship Policy

The public school system is intended to provide all of our children with an equitable education, regardless of their family’s income. School fees should never stand in the way of their education, and the School Act requires boards to set out policies and procedures to allow participation by all children who would otherwise be excluded because of financial hardship.

This is policy 5101 for the Prince George School District.

The policy starts: “The Board of Education of School District No. 57 (Prince George) is committed to ensuring that no student is denied an opportunity to participate in a course, class or program because of financial hardship.”

I’ve bolded some important parts of the administrative procedures:

  1. All communication with students and/or parents regarding fees and deposits must include a statement that explains that fees will not be a barrier to student participation in school activities.
  2. Schools will publish, at the beginning of each school year, a schedule of fees and deposits. This schedule shall include reference to the procedures that can be followed by students, or parents on behalf of students, who would otherwise be excluded from the course, class or activity because of financial hardship.
  3. Schools will establish a hardship application process that is clear to students and parents. All staff members should be aware of this financial hardship provision and be able to advise students and parents with regard to access.
  4. The procedures for addressing financial hardship must be clearly communicated to parents and students and should be conveyed in such media as the student handbook, the parent handbook, student planners, newsletters and/or the school’s website.
  5. The hardship application process may be formal or informal. The process must always, however, respect an individual’s privacy and dignity and adhere to strict principles of confidentiality and fairness.
  6. All requests for support will be considered by the school. The school should consider, but not be limited to, the following options: deferred payment, payment over time, partial waiver or full waiver.

The regulations of the policy go into more detail over what is covered, and distinguish between curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular. Curricular and co-curriculum items are covered – “Schools will have in place procedures for ensuring reasonable access for all students wishing to participate in curricular and co-curricular activities.” Extra-curricular items are not obligated to be covered, but schools are encouraged to facilitate access to these.

Interestingly enough, a lot of people misinterpret this part of the policy, assuming that regular field trips are extra-curricular. They are not – they are co-curricular, according to the policy’s definitions:

  • “Curricular” means of or pertaining to courses or activities directly relating to prescribed learning outcomes outlined by the Ministry of Education
  • “Co-curricular” means of or pertaining to activities that, while not required, are intended to enhance the prescribed learning outcomes outlined by the Ministry of Education (e.g. field trips, band concerts, debating clubs, etc.)
  • “Extra-curricular” means of or pertaining to activities that do not have as their primary focus the prescribed learning outcomes outlined by the Ministry of Education (e.g. international trips at spring break, athletic teams, school dances, etc.)

Parents and students should keep this policy in mind. If material comes home from school without information about financial hardship, please politely remind the school about this policy.

Lastly, some students will self-select out of field trips or courses, rather than ask their parents for money that they know they don’t have, or admit to their teacher that poverty is an issue. Schools should be on the lookout for students are excluding themselves for this reason, and parents and students should be aware that there is funding available for hardship. All students should be included – we all benefit from an equitable education system.

Background information: What do school trustees do?

According to the BC School Trustees Association:

“British Columbia is a large province with many communities, each having different priorities, needs and unique educational requirements. British Columbians elect their boards of education to improve student achievement according to the diverse needs of these communities. As locally elected representatives, the trustees on these boards best understand their respective communities’ particular strengths, challenges and demands.

Trustees engage their communities in building and maintaining a school system that reflects local priorities, values and expectations. School trustees listen to their communities, guide the work of their school district and set plans, policies and the annual budget. Reflecting the strength of local representation, boards report back to their communities on how students are doing. Boards are directly accountable to the people they serve.”

 

According to the Georgia Straight newspaper:

“…But another challenge in recommending in school trustees is that so much of what they deal with is as a result of provincial policies.

The province determines the curriculum. The province negotiates contracts with teachers. The province provides funding for boards of education. And trustees have no power over taxing property, which leaves them searching for revenue through other means, such as by leasing school-district buildings.

It’s a thankless job, and we tip our hat to anyone who wants to run for school trustee, regardless of their party stripe. This is not a job for egomaniacs, because they generally don’t get a lot of credit for their work.

And they’re certainly not doing it for the money. [snipped as Vancouver specific]

They have all the responsibility for the operations of local schools, but not all of the authority, because much of the power resides in Victoria. For example, the province downloaded increases to teachers’ pensions, but didn’t provide funding to cover this expense.

Trustees aren’t entirely powerless, of course. They can choose to fund certain programs over others, close schools, negotiate contracts with support staff, and pursue different approaches in lobbying for more resources from the province.

In addition, good trustees will hire the best administrators.”

Interesting new study – positive student mental health in schools

Anti-bullying measures alone are not enough to encourage positive mental health for children in schools, suggests a new study from the University of British Columbia.

In a study published recently in the journal Social Science & Medicine, researchers found that children who reported feeling a greater sense of belonging in school tended to be more optimistic, while students who experienced bullying felt less optimistic.

Interestingly, researchers found that lower school-wide bullying levels were not specifically associated with more optimism. School-wide feelings of peer belonging and adult support, on the other hand, were linked to children’s optimism.

The findings suggest that, when it comes to creating nurturing environments, schools need to focus on enhancing positive relationships for students with their peers and teachers.

“The take-home message is that schools need to invest in building healthy social climates,” said Eva Oberle, the study’s lead author and assistant professor in the school of population and public health at UBC. “Many schools have anti-bullying campaigns, which is great. But our findings suggest that we also need initiatives that actively promote a healthy, supportive environment.”

Sense of belonging in school key to children’s positive mental health

A rationale for running from Prince George Citizen editorial

I found this editorial in the Prince George Citizen very meaningful to me – “If you don’t feel a burning desire to do your part to make your community better, then you shouldn’t run.

If you don’t play well with others and think you already have all the answers so you don’t need to consider the views of others, you shouldn’t run.

If you’re running out of anger because you’ve been hard done by, you shouldn’t run.

If you wouldn’t do it for free, you shouldn’t run.

On the other hand, if you love this community and feel you owe Prince George a far greater debt than it owes you, please consider political service.

If you love the people of this community and want to work for all of them, not just the ones who agree with you or voted for you, please consider political service.

If you are willing to cast a vote on a controversial issue knowing that friends and family will be upset with you but you believe your stance is what’s best for the overall community, please consider political service.

Let nothing but fear and the opportunity to make a difference stop you.”

Some evidence of commitment

I’ve been cleaning out my files, and these some of the many school board and committee agenda packages, plus budget meetings packages, for meetings I’ve voluntarily attended over the past 8 or so years. I’ve had a voice – but now I’m looking for a vote.

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