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.
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.
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.
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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)