Campaign finances - does where you get your money from matter?

Where money comes from may matter if it says something about you.

There are questions being raised in the media and on Twitter about campaign donations/donors.

You will see in the news that it's become quite an issue in the Mayor's race. It may well be in the CBE Trustee elections too.  

Do my sources of financing tell you about me? If you think they will, please look at my blog post from earlier today to see my early disclosure.  

In addition to what I said earlier, I want to make sure we are considering all the right questions. I saw a tweet today in a thread about campaign donations/support from unions:

Daisy‏ @oxidaisy 

Replying to @BouchieTorres @ARTICSchair @students_count

Worth asking questions about that sort of thing for sure, and whether or not union donations should be allowed. Or caps even from private?

The thread had revealed union campaign donations to a number of candidates. It made me think about the broader questions of corporate and union money. It also made me wonder about political money and personal honesty and integrity. Hence, my immediate blog post about it.

I didn't just speak to union donations, as raised in the tweet. I spoke to union and corporate donations. Those are what I'd been asked about by a media reporter early on in this campaign (Metronews June 22, 2017).

As you can see in the post from earlier today, I'm not taking money from corporations or unions/associations.

I didn’t mention it earlier because it wasn’t the focus of my efforts at that time, but I’m also not taking donations from other politicians, PACS, parties or party donor networks. I tell you this, because it looks to me like the Mayor is suggesting that revealing donors will show party affiliation. And I've seen Facebook posts referencing party backed candidates.

The reason I said that I wouldn't take corporate money is due to the public perception that in politics, corporate donations can represent 'favours' done by corporations that might lead to reciprocal favours down the road, which would benefit the corporation.

In education, Trustees could, at some point, have to make decisions about advertising or naming rights. Those questions have been raised before and could come up again. So, just as well not to take corporate donations.

It was also easy for me to decide not to take union donations, for another simple reason. One of the jobs of CBE Trustees is to (see link for source):

Approve the bargaining mandate and ratify all collective agreements for unionized employees

So, if elected as a Trustee, my job would be to represent the public's interest in signing off on collective agreements. In finalizing negotiated settlements, it's best if there is no appearance that I might care as much about union/association positions as I do for the interests of the  general public. The Trustee's job is to put the broad public interest first. 

Finally, you'll also be able to see from my disclosures of earlier today that I'm not funded by any kind of political party, PAC, party politicians, or well-heeled political donors. I didn't ask my friends, but I'm pretty sure that you would not find a pattern of common political affiliations among them. 

If my fellow candidates in Wards 12 and 14 provide advance information about how their campaigns are being funded, voters will know a bit more about each of us. They'll be able to see something about our financial relations with unions, corporations or other political network. They can decide for themselves what those pieces of information tell them.

I’ll be happy to up-date my info, if asked, as the election proceeds. I’d hope others would too. 

If elected, I'll find it interesting to engage in conversation with fellow Trustees about the By-laws of the organization with respect to the election financing question. Will there be consensus about keeping big money out of politics? Will we ask how we might amend the By-laws so as to limit contributions to individuals only? I know where I stand. Time will tell if there is a real desire to do so among the entire new Board of Trustees. 

Campaign financing - early disclosure

Campaign financing - the least you need to know 

School Board elections are not controlled by the same rules that are used for council/mayor/MLA or MP races. Donations are not limited, but nor are they tax deductible as a political donation (as far as I understand it). 

The rules (or lack of same) are in the Candidate Information book (page marked 44; 56/104 in the pdf version). 

Here is the CBE website page where disclosure statements are posted when they are received after the election. You can see the last by-election and the 2013 disclosures there.

Below, is what I wrote on my Donate/Volunteer/Lawn Signs page regarding donations (and I've expressed the same to anyone who has donated or is contemplating donating). 

Please read the following before donating, so that you know what my commitments have been and how disclosure works.

  • There are no tax receipts available for donations to School Trustee election campaigns. You will just be helping out, from the goodness of your heart!
  • Donations of $100 or less do not call for disclosure.
  • For donations of over $100 you are asked to provide the information needed for a disclosure form that Sara must submit after the election. The disclosure form becomes publicly available, within the Board of Trustees section, on the CBE website.
  • Sara has committed to not take corporate or union donations so please make personal donations only.

Thank you so much for any contribution you are able to make!

So, I'm not going to provide individuals' names yet, since I told my donors that it would happen after the election. But I will attest to the fact that every donation is from an individual friend (or couple) that I know personally. One friend wanted to give money from a business account.  When I explained that I wouldn't take that, and why, we laughed since it wasn't the kind of company that could possibly have any nefarious reason to contribute to an education system, within whose boundaries she doesn't even live). Nevertheless, I explained I had to stick to the rules I'd set for myself and she said she'd make it from her personal account instead. 

So far I've raised $4,014 .

$1,014 is from a whole bunch of friends in amounts of $100 or less, each. 

$3,000 is from friends who each gave over $100. The largest donation so far is from friends who are very eager for me to do well and they gave $1,000. Two were for $500 and the rest have been for $100, $200 or $250. 

I will self-fund whatever I spend that is not raised from donations. 

So, I hope voters will decide what this means for them, looking at me as an individual candidate, and in comparison with what they are, or are not, learning about other candidates. More on that in the next blog post on this topic!

 

How public Board meetings work - Sept. 19, 2017 - Before the meeting.

Trustee Work

Just a reminder - lots of my blog posts are for those who like diving deep. Not so much the 'quick peek'. And I haven't had time to edit this one because the Board meeting is starting as I write this. I want to watch. So please note - this is the detailed, nitty-gritty - not for everybody! :-)

Some of the most important work that Trustees do is preparing for and participating in the formal Board meetings. I'd like to help those in the public who would like to really understand the nitty-gritty of how these meetings are supposed to work. These meetings are supposed to provide the accountability that the public is looking for. People should be able to understand them if they're interested.  So I'll do a few posts, when I can, to give you a better sense than you might get from the material already available online. Today, I'll just focus on how to decipher the agenda and one item being monitored.

There are usually two public meetings each month.  You can find information about these meetings (including agendas and reports, as well as minutes and videos from previous meetings) here on the CBE Website.  Today, I'm going to blog about the meeting, once again using a "Before, During, and After" framework.

I've always been known in my workplace as a 'policy wonk' or a 'bit of geek'. For a long time I've been one of the few people to watch Board meetings completely by choice. In looking ahead to this afternoon's meeting I'm wondering if any of the same things that are catching my attention are on the radar screen of the Trustees. I'm thinking about the questions I'd be asking if I were them. 

Before

To prepare, I've read the agenda and the prepared reports which were made available ahead of time. I refreshed my memory of some issues by going back to previous meeting agenda, reports or minutes. In this case, I didn't need to review any videos, but I could have if necessary. 

The first few items on the agenda won't need much preparation from the Trustees (Call to Order, National Anthem and Welcome;  Consideration/Approval of Agenda; Awards and Recognitions). Item 4.1 is a presentation from one of our High Schools which will help Trustees and the Public see the Results that we are getting in our schools, directly from those producing them (students). 

As for the Roles and Responsibility of Trustees, things get really interesting at Item 5. On the Agenda it says:  20 mins 5 | Operational Expectations 5.1 OE-3: Treatment of Owners – Annual Monitoring D. Stevenson B/CSR-5, OE-3, 8 Page 5-1. 

Please - let me translate!

This says that the Trustees are going to spend approximately 20 minutes on reviewing one of the expectations that they've set out for their Chief Superintendent. Today it's an expectation they have regarding how the CBE treats the 'owners' of public education. In other words, how does the CBE treat the people/community of Calgary?

In the past Trustees wrote out what they expected in a document called Treatment of Owners. You can see exactly what it says by clicking on the link. Would you go there and have a look? I'd be interested to know how well you feel the CBE is upholding the expectation.

If you have any reactions and the Comments section on this blog still isn't working please go to the form here.  I'm having technical difficulties with the blog comments that I'm trying to get sorted out. I'll be frank, it's not my area of expertise. However, being a careful money manager, I've decided it isn't a high priority to pay someone to fix. There are other options! People can use the Contact form instead!

In the Agenda, the item is followed by the name of the person (Administrator) or Group (Board) responsible for the item. In this case, the Chief Superintendent , David Stevenson , will present information that allows the Board of Trustees to determine if he has complied with (met) their expectations. 

B/CSR-5, OE-3, 8 is a code that tells which policies connect to this item. In this case the item relates to the Board/Chief Superintendent Relationship - Chief Superintendent Accountability with respect to Operational Expectations 3 - Treatment of Owners and 8 - Communication with and Support for the Board. So, you can look at what the Chief is supposed to do, by looking at those policies. 

And finally - an important reference to the page number of the report being discussed in this item. In this case Page 5-1. They number the pages to match the item numbers. The reports have to be able to stand alone as documents in their own right. But they are compiled into one large document for posting. So page numbering can get a bit complicated!

If you look at the report which starts on the page labelled 5-1 and is page 3/79 in the package you will find that it starts with a certification sheet. This shows that the Chief is saying (certifying) that overall, he believes he's been successful at meeting the expectations (compliant). Now the Board of Trustees has to read the evidence of compliance, ask questions if necessary and take a vote to decide if they find the evidence to be "compliant", "compliant with noted exceptions" or to be "not compliant". 

The next two pages (5-2 and 5-3) provide an executive summary that by itself isn't too meaningful, but does allow you to see that the there are going to be 4 parts to the OE (3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4). There are going to be a certain number of indicators for each (4,4,6, and 2). A quick glance of these two pages will show you that according to the Chief Superintendent, one of the indicators in each of sections 3.1, 3.2, and 3.4 are non-compliant and the rest are compliant. 

The rest of the report gets into the meat of the matter. It provides the exact wording of the policy. Then is says what the Chief has interpreted it to mean (Reasonable Interpretation). Next it describes what indicators are reported to provided evidence that the intent of the policy is being met. Finally, there is current data on those indicators and whether or not the Chief believes that the data is evidence of compliance. 

So, ahead of even reading the report, I know a few things. I know what I think, generally, about CBE Treatment of Owners and I know that the Chief Superintendent thinks that he is generally in compliance with expectations. 

In my experience the CBE treats owners (community/especially parents) well in some regards but quite poorly in others. I think the CBE does good work in providing ongoing communication with parents who are attentive to the ways that they can get info - from their child's school, via messenger. or via CBE's website or via actual people in person or on phones. However, my experience suggests to me that when asked for their input and opinions, parents often don't feel listened to, and the CBE has  a reputation of being difficult for outside agencies or people to work with (as is common for many large bureaucracies).  So, I'll be interested to see how all of the indicators about organizational culture are compliant.

The items reported to be 'not in compliance' are not of extreme concern to me in most instances in this report because there is very clear data to say exactly why and what steps can be taken to mitigate. The indicators require 100% success and with human error a factor we must expect to some small degree,  I think these areas are not to panic about. I would however, be asking questions to make sure that we are appropriately dealing with every instance where we have not met our own expectations. For example, can the Chief tell the Board what steps were taken to  determine and address the effects when phishing schemes appear to have been successful in a number or instances?

In this instance, it turns out that I'm more interested in what is compliant. I hope the Board starts asking questions about these indicators. I don't think they get at what we need to get at! 

Board meeting's starting ... heading over there now. More during and after!

 


 

 

 

Nomination Day - hard to describe!

Before 

I was really surprised how hard it was to sleep last night. I didn't feel nervous when I went to bed. It wasn't easy to get to sleep though. Maybe the idea of having people vote for you really is rather big stuff.  Feels like it to me. During the night I woke up with a startle response, about every half hour. Kinda hyped up I guess. I don't think it was only a fear of sleeping through the alarm!

During

Well, what an interesting mixture of emotions during the course of the morning at City Hall! A little nervous (what if I forgot the nomination form - or spilled coffee on it or something?) and a little excited - press milling round, high energy in the room, and not just a little buzz all around. I felt the solemnity when swearing the truth of the statements on the nomination form. I felt the importance of the process when going through the technicalities of handing in papers, paying deposit, etc. Mostly I felt the passion of how much I want to contribute something good. 

After

I needed a short rest after very little sleep last night, and woke up with a wicked headache - but you know what - there's still lots to do. Worked on the computer. Planned some stuff out. Talked to supporters and hoped I'd thanked my Carol(e)s properly! (I'm blessed to have two previous Trustees, Carol and Carole showing me the ropes and putting me through my paces.) End of the day now - and eager to get some rest and work through a full day tomorrow. So blessed to live in a place like this!

Thoughts about Alberta Government's Initial Report of the Calgary Board of Education Operational Review September 2017

Commenting as a Candidate  to be Calgary Public School Trustee Wards 12 & 14

As a candidate to be Public Schools Trustee for Wards 12 and 14, I am pleased that the Minister was able to provide today an Initial Report of the Calgary Board of Education Operational Review. This initial report provides facts and figures which will inform the public debate in this municipal election cycle, and is therefore timely and welcome.

I may be able to delve into this report in detail over the coming days. Who knows, I may even edit this blog if I decide that changes to my first impressions are called for. But at this time, after a brief time with the report, my initial thinking leads me to offer the following comments:

Alberta Government's Initial REport - CBE Operational review

The report provides factual information without drawing many conclusions. It puts the new Board of Trustees and CBE Administration, along with the Minister and his staff, in good position to collaborate well together. Great progress can be made in the months to come. The report signals an opportunity to get down to work. We can bring local and provincial players together. This will be to the long term benefit of Calgary’s students. 

Conservative budgeting

Some of the data presented suggests that conservatism in budget preparation has contributed to  perceptions of budget instability at the CBE over the years. According to my recollection of comments made in a June Board meeting by Superintendent/CFO Grundy (date to follow, in my later comments) this budget conservatism has recently been minimized.

Therefore, it is likely that projected deficits are less likely to turn into budget surpluses in future. In my opinion, conservatism in budgeting is generally prudent. It is easy to understand why a cautious approach has been preferred by Administration until recently. It is far easier to determine how to enhance services when conservative budgets end up providing pleasant surpluses, than it is to deal with unexpected shortfalls. However, the benefit of less instability is likely worth slightly greater risk-taking.

If elected to be a member of the new Board, I expect to work with my colleagues to ask our Chief Superintendent to continue budgeting based on the most accurate projections possible (as opposed to most conservative) while, at the same time, presenting contingency plans to mitigate the risks of this approach.

Administration building

The Initial Report helps the public to understand the very significant problems arising from the Central Administration building (see page 5). It also highlights the importance of arriving at greater transparency with respect to what constitutes administrative versus instructional costs? Some staff members working out of that building have roles that are in direct support of students and school staff (professional support staff such as speech language/psychology / diversity and learning support advisors, as well as certificated staff such as teacher specialists, for example). Do the building costs to house these employees most appropriately land under admin or instructional building costs? These people aren’t administrative and yet aren’t providing direct instruction to students. Perhaps it would be better for there to be a different set of categories used to report spending buckets. The categories can be more sophisticated than merely “administrative” versus “instructional”. The observations made in the report are aligned with this point of view.  

Transparency

The real issue is transparency. The public wants, and has a right, to know how bad the situation truly is. It is well known that the problem dates back many years. It's time to get past the blame game, see the reality and decide how to move forward. The new Board of Trustees and the Chief Superintendent (who was not the Chief when the lease was signed) need to work together to address this problem. 

Comments on each of the observations

Here are my comments below on each of the observations with which the report concludes. (Quoted text from the Initial Report is in italicized font)

  1. The review has highlighted that a more thorough examination and comparison of the operations of the four metro boards is warranted. This is an important observation / conclusion. It has the potential to help CBE administrative personnel to collaborate effectively with colleagues at other metro boards. It is time that CBE becomes a strong team player with its metro cousins and this thorough examination will help us get there.
  2. A preliminary examination of spending versus the other three metro boards reveals CBE is comparable in per student spending. How that funding is spent and allocated to schools differs among the boards as they respond to and reflect local circumstances. From the department’s observation, it is possible that a sharing of best practices amongst the metro boards related to programming and funding support methodologies may lead to cost savings. On the campaign trail, I have been willing to be very critical of CBE Administration where I believe it is warranted, but I have also been quite clear in conversation that I do not think some of the exaggerated criticisms have been fair. I have noted, and will continue to do so, that if CBE’s spending on administration was as “out of line” with others, their class sizes could not be as comparable as they are (CBE lower than CCSD in K-3 and 4-6; higher in 7-9 and 10-12).  It speaks well of the Operational Review’s fairness that this preliminary conclusion has been communicated at this point in time.  
  3. Alberta Education is still in the process of analyzing the allocation methods used for the board system and administration. As noted above, this is a welcome proposition.
  4. Alberta Education will be working with the CBE to review neighborhoods impacted by their congregated stop policy and look at financially sustainable ways to bring existing nearby routes into these neighborhoods instead of having students travel several kilometers to meet the nearest route at an existing stop. This will entail revisiting ride times and finding an appropriate balance number and location of congregated stops and student ride time to alternative program sites. We expect CBE will have concrete solutions in place after Thanksgiving. This collaborative work between province and the CBE (“Alberta Education will be working with the CBE …”) provides a model for work beyond the transportation issue alone. When elected, I intend to promote and enhance this collaborative approach in all aspects of the organization. The tone and spirit of an organization is set at the highest level of leadership and I expect that the new Board of Trustees, along with their Chief Superintendent,  can be models of such a tone and true spirit.  
  5. A more detailed and finalized report resulting from this review, including comparisons to other large school boards in Alberta, will be provided later this year. I am confident that the new Board of Trustees can find the more detailed, finalized, report, to be invaluable as they embark on the work that must be accomplished during the term of office.          (p. 7 of 7)

CBE's Math 'Strategy'

I know that most people want the 'short version' of a candidate's positions. At the same time, I do believe that a few people want a complete picture. Below is a detailed explanation of my thinking about the CBE's Math Strategy. 

If you want the short version of my point of view on Math, please see the single paragraph on the home page. Or, for a bit more detail - see the Math page. If you want to know my perspective on teaching for immediate recall of math facts, see my blog post (below) from Sept. 10th. 

For those hardy individuals who want to know about the recently proposed Math Strategy ... knock your socks off, read my musings here!

Spoiler alert ....

....   this post contains pointed criticism of how well CBE Administration listens to the public!

Parents have been raising concerns about math achievement for some time. At first, CBE's administration (Admin) appeared to be paying attention to the concerns raised by the public and Trustees. They started out to develop a Math Strategy to be responsive to the need. As part of their work to develop it, Admin undertook a public consultation process. 

On June 30, 2017 a Math Strategy Overview was posted on CBE’s public website. You can access it here.  

The overview demonstrates that the new Board of Trustees (to be elected October 16th - don't forget to vote!), must provide more direction to David Stevenson, the Chief Superintendent with respect to what the public expects in a Math Strategy for our schools. David can readily set his people on a path which better reflects what he and the Trustees are asking for. 

First, the overview states that “Overall CBE students do well in Mathematics based on report card data and provincial achievement results.” Then, after reporting high levels of success on report cards (without defining what constitutes ‘success’), the overview says that:

In 2015-16 the percentage of CBE students meeting the Acceptable Standard for each of the Mathematics provincial tests or exams was: 
• Mathematics 6: 75.0% 
• Mathematics 9: 67.9% 
• Mathematics 9 K&E: 53.6% 
• Mathematics 30-1: 76.0% 
• Mathematics 30-2: 78.2%

This is NOT success.

Now lets look at just one piece of data from the engagement. 

 Question 2 of an online survey (great majority of respondents were parents/guardians) asked “What support does your child need to be successful in mathematics?” 

Here are the top ten (of 21) responses per the CBE summary:
1. Practice and repetition
2. Quality of Instruction
3. Basics and Foundations
4. Numeracy and the Real World
5. Student Learning and Support
6. Interactive and Engaging Teaching Methods
7. Problem Solving and Reasoning
8.  Curriculum
9.  Resources
10. Memorization

Note that the number one response (whether sorted by the number of people -129- or the number of ‘stars’ -endorsing the response -602) was “practice and repetition”. The seventh response was problem solving and reasoning (21 people, 89 stars – or roughly 15% the rate of the number one response). 

As well, memorization was listed separately from practice and repetition (at #10). Thus, together, it was clear that most parents wanted a focus on more practice, repetition and memorization. 

With these considerations in mind, CBE's response (Math Strategy Overview) states that:

CBE’s Mathematics Strategy focuses on the following:    

Ensuring mathematics learning programs are active and                                                 rigorous:
1. Build strong mathematical foundations so students can understand complex mathematical ideas
2. Ensure students participate in learning activities that develop their mathematical reasoning and communication skills
3. Create more opportunities for students to be active problem solvers 

Enhancing positive mathematics cultures in each school
1. Know that every student can be successful and confident at learning mathematics
2. Teachers and parents help build mathematical thinking by connecting math to other subjects and everyday life. 

Building clarity and coherence in mathematics instruction and assessment practices
1. Build opportunities for students to practice math skills over time
2, Focus on the connections between conceptual understanding, problem solving and mental math  
3. Use mathematical discussion with/among students to build and solidify concepts
4. Communicate clearly with families about student learning in math  
5. Strengthen the use of specific feedback and guidance to students during learning 

Providing professional learning to enhance teacher confidence and skill  
1. Build teacher confidence and skill with mathematics content and teaching through: 
a. Whole-school learning  
b. Teacher collaboration within schools
c. Individual teacher learning

Now these things may not be contradictory to what parents asked for, but in my opinion, they do not clearly get at what parents were asking for. It appears to me that Admin does not wish to have a focus on practice, repetition, or memorization as part of the strategy, even though that's what parents believe their children need. 

It would be fine for the CBE Admin to state that "despite parent input, the strategy will take a different direction". They certainly have the right to argue against what parents want; but the debate needs to be a public and open one. 

Trustees can discuss this issue (the role that parent input should or should not play in guiding the system strategy). What is not okay with me is that the strategy is silent on the main concern raised by parents. It has been in the news. Parents see it as causing declining results. Their desire for more ‘traditional’ math was (or certainly should have been) a driver of the development of a strategy in the first place. Why does the Math Strategy Overview not make a clear statement about the role of memorization of math facts?

Silence makes the public feel that there is a lack of openness, honesty and transparency, in the system. Asking for public input and then ignoring it is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons that CBE suffers a poor public reputation at times. 

When I am a Trustee, I will be asking the questions about math, and the math strategy, which parents want answered. 

1. Will teachers devote teaching time and energy to the memorization of math facts (outcomes in the Program of Studies)?

2. If the Strategy leaves goals and action plans up to individual schools, principals, and teachers, how is it a system strategy?

3. How does the strategy reflect scientific research? I can see evidence of one research branch (qualitative research, instructional practice linked to learning theory/social construction of knowledge) but not the research which provides objective, empirical, scientific evidence of what works. 

4. How will “success” of the strategy be defined and measured? The literacy strategy has made it clear that success will continue to be measured just as it always has been (nothing new has been proposed to monitor or evaluate student literacy, or system change). 

5. Will the math strategy also just do "more of the what we've been doing" to monitor and evaluate math success? Or will we drill down and determine which students in the system are not yet successful in math, and why? Will we target specific actions to those students? Alternatively, will it look at which teachers want and need support, and target specific actions to those teachers?

6. How will resources be linked to specific actions? How will the impact of those resources on measurable results be determined? In other words, what will the system spend money on to improve math results and how will we know if the money was well spent? Administration needs to find a way to devote energy and time (resources) to specific actions which will improve results for specific students. 

As is true for each of the system “strategies” included in the 3 Year Education plan, when elected as a Trustee, I will ensure that administration is asked for (and produces) clear Math action plans and uses strong change management strategies, with measurable objective goals and planned evaluations.

Math conversations in Ward 12

I was talking to lots of people today at Quarry Park's Calgary Public Library / Remington YMCA. We talked about many things. No surprise, math came up quite a bit!

People are hearing that knowledge of math facts isn't in the curriculum. I'm helping people to understand that isn't quite true. To solve the problem of kids not knowing math facts, candidates have to understand exactly where the problem lies! I do.

I'm sharing with people just how/where recall of math facts is explicitly stated  in the curriculum. I'm also pointing out that if it's in the curriculum, teachers are expected to, and do teach it.  I know plenty of teachers and I know that the great majority of them 'get it". They do think that knowing math facts is important. So what's the hold-up?

Well, it's in the curriculum, but it isn't carefully monitored. Trustee candidates will need some understanding of Board functioning if they hope to change how well children know math facts. I have this understanding!

Parents need reassurance that their child does have an automatic answer when asked what "6+9 is ...?" or "7X8 is ...?" They know intuitively that children need automatic recall to allow them to be good at problem solving and understanding higher math. Parents' intuition just happens to be consistent with scientific knowledge of how working memory and reasoning are both part of math success!

So, in my conversations with voters, I explain what it is that the Board of Trustees can do. We can dig deeper into what we expect for the monitoring of Math achievement. The Chief Superintendent can provide the public with the reassurance  if the Board of Trustees asks for it. We can say that this is part of the curriculum which is a priority for our parents and we want to monitor it specifically. My understanding of how the governance and oversight systems work means we will have an effective Board. I also have expertise in assessment and measurement. So with me as a Trustee, we really can make a big difference. 

When I'm elected, I'll work with my Board colleagues and the Chief Superintendent to make sure that kids learn the basics. I'm not talking "back to the basics" I'm talking "don't forget the basics"!

There's one more BIG thing the Board of Trustees can do about Math. And that's about the recently developed Math Strategy. But it's going to need a lengthy Blog post all of it's own. Watch for it here in the coming days, as the election progresses. 

AND mark your calendar for October 16th (election day) or get out to vote in advance polls (October 4th to 11th - excluding Thanksgiving).

 

Thoughts about school fees.

I first posted this on Facebook with the intro comment:

Okay ... this will set a record for longest post! If you printed it out it would be about 4 pages. So, only people who really want to know my detailed thought process need read through. The rest of you - please skim at your leisure but remember - everything has context! I promised to get something out a.s.a.p. so I'm posting as is; but I reserve the right to edit later!!

I have two goals for this extended post.

1) I want to directly address the issue of school fees (further to Twitter threads with lots of discussion about this today).
2) I want to demonstrate the type of thinking that I believe needs to come to the Board of Trustees, so that we work effectively and make decisions based on principles and values. Board Effectiveness is a key platform issue for me.

There is a lot to know to fully understand issues connected to school fees. I think I know and understand a fair bit about this. And, I don’t know everything. So, I want to start by saying that I’m open to finding out what I’ve missed. Next, I want to lay out:

1) What I (think I) know, 
2) what I believe, and
3) the questions I’ll work through with other Trustees, once elected.

*PLEASE let me know (and point me to the evidence where possible) if you think I’m wrong about something on the list of "what I think I know". PLEASE ask any questions you have about what I believe, or about the questions I would like to work through with Trustee colleagues (once elected).

What I think I know:

  • As a society, we have agreed in principle to make publicly funded education available for EVERY child. 
  • In Alberta, funds flow from the province to the school jurisdictions (such as CBE) to provide publicly funded education. 
  • The provincial government determines what funds they will provide and what, if any restrictions there are on spending. 
  • The Alberta government provides the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) with the great majority of its revenues. 
  • The revenue comes in various ways and via certain formulae (such as an amount for each child, an amount for transportation for certain bus riders, etc.).
  • There are relatively few restrictions; although there are some (e.g., a cap on administrative spending). For the most parts, school jurisdictions have a good deal of discretion on how to spend. 
  • For the most part, school jurisdictions are expected to take the revenues and, considering ALL revenue and local needs, decide how best to spend it. Generally speaking, they are not required to account for spending within ‘pots’ from where the money comes in. So, in theory, you can spend $s from the per pupil grant on non-instructional costs. CBE was in process of moving AWAY from this when Bill 1 was introduced. 
  • Bill 1, introduced in March 2017, provided new funds designed to reduce fees that parents were paying, and it came with new rules. These rules create restrictions that school jurisdictions have not had to manage before. 
  • CBE is obligated to follow the rules. 
  • New rules mean some parents are relieved of transportation fees and some will be paying for transportation. 
  • With Bill 1, school jurisdictions can no longer charge fees for instructional supplies and materials for any student; nor can they charge transportation fees for certain students. They can charge transportation fees for some other students (attending other than their designated community school or special education program). They can also charge 3 other types of fees:
    • a. Non-curricular travel, e.g. to and from extracurricular event
    • b. Extracurricular fees, e.g. sporting or other extracurricular
    • c. Activity fees, e.g. admission fees to venues
  • Before Bill 1, the extra/non-curricular and activity fees were developed & decided mostly at the school level. The process by which parents had input into these was via school councils. This can continue but province will still need to approve fees even if school council already has.
  • Right now, government has said that “if it’s not on a fee schedule (approved at the beginning of the year by the province) you are not going to be able to charge it.” This requires a great deal of foresight and may not be practical in a number of instances. CBE will try to work with provincial government to see how best to work with their rules. 
  • Fee schedules are to be submitted to the province by September 15, 2017. 
  • Fee schedules will be posted once they are approved. 
  • Fees won’t be charged, and trips won’t be undertaken, until they have been approved by province. 
  • All of what we are thinking and doing now could change as things evolve at the provincial level.

Things I believe:

  • Overall, parents pay too many fees. 
  • Some parents face considerable financial stress because of school fees. Many families have no room for more stress in their lives. This hurts.
  • When some parents are required to pay for things and other parents are not, it detracts from equity in public education. 
  • Some parents appreciate the opportunities which these fees support (i.e., extracurricular activities and field trips) and want them to flourish.
  • As noted, some parents find the fees to be significant financial stressors. 
  • Some parents are in between. 
  • The Board of Trustees need to balance various views of what the public wants. 
  • In my opinion, education being publicly funded really ought to mean ‘fully funded’ (no extra fees to get to and from school or participate in the opportunities that schools provide). Otherwise, children in affluent communities get a different education than children in schools in less affluent communities. This is a somewhat idealistic view in light of how things work at the moment. It does however, reflect my values. 
  • CBE is a part of the much larger provincial system and a decision for CBE to eliminate fees on their own would have VERY significant implications. (There would be significant costs associated with this benefit) 
  • Fees can only be eliminated altogether if we either get more funds from the province or spend existing funds differently (this one could probably have gone in the column of “things I know).
  • Finding other costs to eliminate, so that CBE could eliminate school fees, is not likely to be easy. If it were easy, it would be done already. But with conversation based on reason, values and principles, it is possible that a fully functioning Board of Trustees, working together, could do so.
  • My beliefs are not particularly important while they remain those of an individual – far more important is the general feeling among Calgarians and their elected Trustees. 
  • There are fast solutions. There are cheap solutions. There are good solutions. We can only pick two. There are no fast, cheap and good solutions. (Not an original way of putting it but I don’t know who to cite). The Board of Trustees' job is to decide which two. My preference would be to find good and cheap solutions (won’t be fast because might need to make changes over time to account for everybody’s interests). However, my job as a Trustee would be to work with colleagues to find a consensus or a close to one as possible, not to impose a solution. 
  • It should be non-negotiable that when fees are to be levied, there is opportunity for there to be local input from those who will be expected to pay.

Examples of questions the new Board of Trustees should address:

  • What do we believe about our constituents’ thoughts about fees?
  • What do we know?
  • Are there gaps in what we know that can be filled, at reasonable cost?
  • Right now, decisions about extracurricular/travel costs get parent input from school councils. Is this the right level for input to be obtained? Are there alternatives? Pros/cons of each? Before Bill 1 there was a plan for transportation fees and service levels, based on recent public engagement. All those plans changed on short notice after Bill 1 was introduced. In light of Bill 1, what is the right plan for the next form of transportation engagement? Timing? (See also an earlier, lengthy post about alternative programs).
  • What do we believe about the level at which these decisions should be made e.g. system level - same fees, if any, for all schools, or divisionally, all schools of the same grades? school by school? 
  • What are the implications of those decisions? For example, if all schools have the same fees for field trips and extracurricular activities– how do we ensure fees are manageable for most families in least affluent communities. In other words, how do we ensure that public education does not unduly privilege some students over others. 
  • What do we know about restrictions (e.g. provincial regulations, as they evolve) that limit what we can or cannot do when setting fees policies? 
  • Is there a reasonable consensus within the Board of Trustees, reflecting a mandate from our public, to move forward with policy shifts?
  • Governance policy is used to guide and direct the Chief Superintendent to create and implement internal administrative regulations that match what the Trustees are expecting on behalf of the public. What vision and governance policies (if any) need to be amended or developed to accomplish what the public wants?
  • How will the Board of Trustees monitor the Chief Superintendent’s success in relation to any new policy implementation? Does the new policy have enough detail (within the governance model) to give the Chief Superintendent every opportunity to be successful? Vague aspirations in ‘operational expectations’ which would have excessive costs to implement aren’t helpful. Does new policy allow for clear data to be collected with limited/reasonable expenditure? The Chief Superintendent should be set up for success and should not be in a position where it is possible to report technical compliance without being reasonably consistent with the spirit of the policy. Then the Board can appropriately require administrative accountability.