New Westminster School Board Strategic Directions (Tuesday, June 13, 2017)

As many of you will know the New Westminster School Board has been working on a Mission Statement and Strategic Directions over the past few months.

School Trustees have been tasked by the Superintendent to review a list of values and refine our personal lists down to 3 values for Tuesday’s meeting.

I would appreciate any suggestions from folks about what values you see as the most important to you that you would like to see reflected by the School District.

I have attached the information that has been provided to School Trustees for this exercise.

June13 2017 Education Committee Meeting Follow up

Values List Strategic Planning Meeting 170613

Strategic Direction – Values – Part 7 -June 13, 2017

May 30, 2017 School Board Meeting

Trustee Responsibilities 

The last couple of School Board meetings have been to finalize the Board’s new policy manual and the new Administrative guidelines. This is viewed by some Trustees as a new world and a new way to approach leadership. But I think that it is a return to the old way of having one person in charge in a non-collaborative approach that we moved away from in New Westminster 30 years ago.

Recently a trustee asked me what it was that I wanted since I was so opposed to what was being proposed. What I want is very simply a more collaborative approach to governing and decision making. An approach where everyone is involved in the decision-making so that it really works for everyone and will be long lasting. Long term change is dependent on the people involved having all the available information and then buying into that change. To begin with it must make sense and there must be good, clear evidence presented of why the change is necessary.  When change is forced on people the change will be short lived, when the only reason given is basically “because I said so,” that change then lacks moral legitimacy. I brought forward over 40 amendments to change the direction of this policy, and I would guess that about 80% were defeated (although some like Duty to Document and Inform and having an Audit Committee) have simply been postponed until the fall.

When we were discussing the Administrative Procedures it was made clear to me that our job, as Trustees, is to approve the Policy, and the Admin guidelines are the responsibility of the Superintendent. We were not asked for, nor are we expected to give our input into how the district is run or how the Superintendent implements our new Board policy. Under this new direction that is considered to be “realm of operational issues” and trustees are to have no say on operational issues. Yet it is how those Board policies are implemented that reflects directly on the School Board and the School District; ultimately it is the Board who is responsible and answerable and therefore the Board must have the ability to engage in ongoing conversations about how our policies are being implemented.  A more collaborative approach would be to raise concerns and issues at a Board meeting, something that we have done many times over the past 30 years. The Board then gives it’s input and unless there is a specific motion directing the Superintendent, then the Superintendent is left with collective input of Trustees and can then proceed as he/she sees fit.

Under the School District’s new Admin procedures (Administrative Procedure 106 DECISION MAKING PROCESS) generally the administrators in this district will consult and listen to advice, but are not required to collaborate. I would like to see a requirement of collaboration, where the people who have to carry out the decisions are part of the decision making process. And yes that sometimes will mean that decisions will take longer, but good decison making cannot be rushed.

Under the new policy as a Trustee I am required to support the Superintendent, without any input or say.

POLICY 2
ROLE OF THE BOARD
4.Board/Superintendent Relations
The Board shall:
4.6 Respect the authority of the Superintendent to carry out executive action and support the Superintendent’s actions which are exercised within the delegated discretionary powers of the position.

And under,

POLICY 3
ROLE OF THE TRUSTEE
A trustee must serve the community as an elected representative, but the trustee’s primary task is to act as a member of a corporate Board. School board trustees collectively and individually have a public duty to carry out their responsibilities and the work of the school board in good faith and with reasonable diligence. Trustees have one overarching responsibility – a shared public duty to advance the work of the school board.
Specific Responsibilities of Individual Trustees
The trustee shall:
2. Support a majority vote of the Board to advance the work of the board and monitor progress to ensure decisions are implemented.

Once this passes tomorrow night I feel I will no longer be supposed to represent the public first,

“the trustee’s primary task is to act as a member of a corporate Board. … [and my job as a trustee is to] Support a majority vote of the Board….”

I totally reject this concept as being anti-democratic. My job as an elected official, at any level, is to represent the public first, second and always. We must always keep that in mind.

I was reminded recently by the President of a teacher’s union that teachers settle contracts with School Boards, not administration. I will continue to oppose this “new direction” of the New Westminster School Board. As I said in an early posting I feel that this new policy directon is a abrogation of our responsibilities and our duties under the School Act. While the School Act allows School Board to delegate authority it nowhere requires us to give up our responsibility and I believe strongly that it is our responsibility to govern by monitoring our employees, particularly our administrative employees, as they carry out their duties on our behalf and on behalf of the citizens of New Westminster.

Student Vote BC 2017

Student Vote provides elementary and high school students with a chance to experience an election.

Understanding democratic decision making starts for my class every September where we discuss how decisions can be made and how they would like to make decisions in the classroom. Of course they are parameters.

  • Class decisions cannot negatively impact anyone in the class.
  • Class decisions must always be respectfully made.
  • Class decisions cannot have a negative impact on either the social or learning situation in the classroom.

We start out discussing how we can make decisions:

      • Dictatorship (I get to make all of the decisions)
      • Consensus
      • Democratic
          • Plurality/First past the post
          • Majority
              • Majority (single vote and if no majority the decision dies)
              • Majority by removing the lowest number and voting until you make a decision that is made by 50% +1

The class chooses, by consensus, one of these ways to make decisions and then we agree that we can always change the process later. 

We set up Class Meetings where people can put items on the agenda and the class can make decisions about them. An example is sitting arrangements in the class. I have told them that I am prepared to let them organize how their sitting arrangements are determined (size of groups, rows, tables, desks etc).

In this way making democratic decisions becomes second nature to them.

In the fall we followed the American election and studied the Electoral College system of electing Presidents, and contrasted that with our current First Past the Post system.

I have had my classes participate in elections since the 1983 Provincial Election and I have been participating in Student Vote since the early 2000s.  Last Federal Election  (2015) my class was part of a video produced by CIVIX reflecting on the Federal Election and the voting process.

Over the course of the 6 weeks since Spring Break my class has been focused on once again on understanding democratic decision making, the different levels of government and what their responsibilities are and particularly on the BC Provincial election and Student Vote BC 2017.

Over those 6 weeks my students have had to:

  • participate in weekly polling,

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  • Develop an understanding of the election issues by setting up a table to contrast the different political parties positions on 2 issues of the students choosing,
  • Prepare an election ad for either one of the political parties or promoting the vote
  • Develop a traditional paper poster or a digital meme for either one of the political parties or promoting the vote.
  • They have had to organize themselves in groups and present to the class on a specific issue that is important to them.

They presented on:

  • Pollution
  • Minimum Wage
  • Childcare
  • Education
  • Homelessness
  • Housing
  • Bridge Tolls

The expectation was that they presented the information on the issues from the 3 major political parties Liberal, NDP and Green and since we are in the riding of Surrey-Guildford they could also include Christian Heritage Party, if they wanted.

Tomorrow is Student Vote day and our school will be voting Grade 3 – 7. Our votes will be tallied and sent to CIVIX and will be released at 8pm Tuesday, May 9, just after the polls close.

I have included a series of examples of the work that they produced.  I am incduing their video ads on Facebook.

New Westminster School Board Meeting Tuesday, April 25

Even with a provincial election we have to earn our pay and Board business carries on.

We have our monthly Board meeting Tuesday night and we have a number of significant items on the agenda.

  • 2017 – 2018 Budget
  • Adopting our new Policy Manual
  • Queensborough Busing Report
  • Audit Committee

2017 – 2018 Budget

We have some significant shortfalls in the School District. Not least of which is that we need to take out of our accumulated surplus (for the 2nd year in a row) $488,000 to keep this a status quo budget.  That means that if we did not have an accumulated surplus we would be cutting services and jobs to the tune of $488,000.  This is nothing more then a continuation of the Provincial governments underfunding of education. While we are hiring more teachers and restoring the illegally stripped language in the School District’s collective agreement with teachers, we are still not getting enough money from the province to cover the actual costs of running the school district.

I am still concerned about the government covering the actual costs of the restoration of the collective agreement. We may need additional portables for classrooms and space for the increase in non-enrolling teachers and I am not sure if the government will actually really fund these. For this reason for this year I support maintaining the status quo and not looking at increasing services, (for example restoring custodial services, including full replacements for custodial absences, additional services to deal with the increasing issues of mental health in adolescents, increased funding to support the Fine and Performing Arts in the school District, increased monies for transporting our athletes and supplying additional resources for teaching supplies and materials). I will relook at things at the end of September when we have classes set, we know what our 2016-2017 surplus is and we have a clearer understanding of the real level of funding that was provided.

Adopting our new Policy Manual

I have made my position well known about my opposition to our change in Policy. I believe that the School Board is surrendering it’s responsibility to monitor and govern the School District and placing too much unfettered authority into the hands of Senior Administration. I believe that we should have a more collaborative approach to governance with Trustees constantly questioning/discussing/collaborating about the decisions that our senior staff are making in following Board policy, not just the once a year that is in this new Policy direction. I will not be supporting the adoption of the new Policy Manual, and will continue to question Administrative decisions and will continue to press my fellow Trustees to change this approach.

Queensborough Busing Report

We didn’t seem to get much interest in this. I have long believed that this School District should purchase and run a couple of buses and use them for field trips, sports teams and fine arts programs. If we had done this we could be running a morning shuttle to both Queensborough and to Fraser River Middle. But no-one else seems to be interested and all I hear from our trustees around the province is don’t ever get involved in busing if you don’t have to.

I suspect with the low level of returns and involvement that we will not be entering the busing business this year.

Audit Committee

In November I brought forward a motion for the Board to consider the establishment of an Audit Committee made of School District Staff, Trustees and external experts to help make sure that the financial decisions that the Boards was making and that the reporting of information to the Board and Public was clearly understandable and transparent. Waiting 4 months has allowed events to overtake my motion. In one of the last acts before the election was called the Ministry of Education instructed School Boards to establish, by June 2018, Audit Committees.  I have changed my motion from wanting to set up an Audit Committee to an enabling motion directing our Superintendent to come to our Operations Committee next month and give the Board a timeline for establishment and adoption of an Audit Committee. I have included my original motion and rationale as part of this new enabling motion.

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Supplement to: OPERATIONS POLICY & PLANNING COMMITTEE

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Audit Committee

Background:

We need to establish an Audit Committee to help oversee the finances of the School Board. In the past decade we have had 4 different Secretary-Treasurers. In the first 3 situations we started off great for a couple of years, but then something happened and we ended up in unanticipated deficits or surpluses. Deficits or surpluses not authorized by the Board.

In June 2012 we ended the year with an unanticipated Unrestricted Operating Deficit of $2,790.052

In June 2013 we ended the year with an anticipated Unrestricted Operating Deficit of $4,898,109, if the Board and the new Secretary-Treasure had not acted when we did the deficit had been projected to be $5.6 million.

In June 2014 (we ended the year with an unanticipated Unrestricted Operating Deficit of $813,400.  The Board did not authorize, nor did it have any knowledge that we were recovering $4 million of our deficit our that year.

In June 2015 we ended the year with an Unrestricted Operating Surplus of $749,348, and I am not sure how much of that was anticipated and how much was unanticipated, but I do not believe that the Board made the decision to make the $1.6 million savings in that one year.

In June 2016 the School Board ended the year with a Unrestricted Operating Surplus of $1,365,020 (that is the total of last years surplus of $749,348 and this years surplus of $615,672). In addition the Board has a Board restricted Contingency Fund of  $500,000). That 2015 – 2016 Surplus of $615,672 was will within the expectations of a $400,000 surplus that the Board was anticipating.

Currently the Board has not yet been informed about the anticipated Surplus for June 2017.

We seem to be back on track now.

But I do not think that the School Trustees have the necessary expertise to review the work of the Secretary-Treasurer. We accept the Secretary-Treasurer’s information as correct and accurate but we have no ways of ensuring that the information is correct and accurate.

In the recent Milburn Report on the VSB Recommendation R#14

“The VSB create an Audit Committee, including in the membership of the committee external experts to provide recommendations on various strategies, financial situations, risk management scenarios, and other complex issues.”

My Old Recommendation from November 2016:

THAT the Operations Policy and Planning Committee recommend to the Board of Education for School District No. 40 (New Westminster) that the Board of Education establish an Audit Committee, Chaired by a Trustee, of external experts to provide recommendations on various strategies, financial situations, risk management scenarios, and other complex issues.

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My new motion simply reads,

Recommendation:

THAT the Board of Education for School District No. 40 (New Westminster) direct that the Superintendent report to the May Operations Committee on a proposed process, including timelines and composition for the establishment of an Audit Committee.

Bridge Tolls

Can someone explain to me why it is so important to have tolls on 2 bridges? I have listened to some of the comments on bridge tolling and it is confusing to me. Why have 2 bridges tolled, but not other bridges or other roads? Other then political reasons I could never understand why the Coquihalla was tolled but not the Sea to Sky, why the Golden Ears and Port Mann are tolled but not the Bennett Bridge in Kelowna. Bridges in Richmond and Vancouver are not tolled. It seems unreasonable to me to allow housing prices to soar out of reach for most people in Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam and New Westminster forcing people to move out to Langley, Surrey and places east and then toll them as they come in to work. Wouldn’t it make more sense to build infrastructure such as roads and bridges out of Provincial Revenue (as was done for decades) using a more progressive taxation system, then through the seemingly regressive tax structure of tolls?

New Westminster School Board meeting (Tuesday, March 28)

On the agenda is our first report on our 2017 -2018 budget. This will be a difficult budget and I suspect that we will opt to mostly work on status quo while we implement the restoration of the illegally stripped contract clauses. To try to do much more then reintegrate those teachers, the old class size and composition language this year I think would be unrealistic. As I said in an earlier post the devil will be in the details and we (both the School Board and the community) will need to make sure that the government, whoever that is, follows through with the legal requirements of the contract restoration next September.

We also will be deciding the School District calendar for 2017 – 2018, keeping with the theme of everyone in New Westminster having the same Professional Days off.

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Duty to Document

I was delighted to hear that the provincial government has moved forword with a legislative requirement for a Duty to Document government decisions.

CBC News

While I am not sure yet if this Duty to Document  legislation is going to apply to School Boards, or even if this will meet the test of B.C.’s former information and privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham report Access Denied, I am certainly thrilled with the direction. In November I presented the New Westminster School Board with a motion for a School District Duty to Document Policy. It has yet to be placed on an Operations Committee Agenda, although I am hoping for an April Operations Committee.

I think that we need both the Duty to Document policy and a policy that clearly stipulates that all items that come before the Board are accompanied with clear , written documentation,

(1) outlining what the purpose of the agenda item is,
(2) outlining options for the Board consideration, and
(3) making a recommendation for the Board

That would mean no more verbal reports and it would also mean that that the Board has a Duty to Document how, why and not just what decisions were made to preserve the institutional memory of the Board for the reasons for decisions.

I believe that this is so important for reflective, considerate and tranparent Board decision making that if we need to hire more administrative staff to accomplish this I would be supportive. I believe that there is a cost to democratic and transparent decision making, and as one trustee I am prepared to pay for it.

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Supplement to: OPERATIONS POLICY & PLANNING COMMITTEE
DATE: Sunday, November 13, 2017
Item: Requiring Action

PROPOSED DUTY TO DOCUMENT POLICY

Background:
Duty to Document is the concept of providing and preserving the full reasons for decisions that are made by public bodies.

For decades public bodies have relied on minutes of meeting to keep track of what was done and “institutional memory” to remember the why it was done. In this world of Freedom of Information we have seen develop cultures of destruction of documents and an increasingly oral culture so that information does not have to be put down on paper or in documents thus keeping the information from the public, obviously forgetting that it is the public’s information and it is the public that we serve, both as elected officials and as administration.

Elizabeth Denham is the former Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia. In October 22, 2015 she released a report called, ACCESS DENIED: RECORD RETENTION AND DISPOSAL PRACTICES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF BRITISH COLUMBIA. In that report she stated,

“Access to information rights can only exist when public bodies create the conditions for those rights to be exercised. Government must promote a culture of access, from executive leadership to front-line employees. If they fail to meet this obligation, the access to information process is rendered ineffective.

Democracy depends on accountable government. Citizens have the right to know how their government works and how decisions are made. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FIPPA”) enshrines this right, promoting openness, transparency and above all accountability of government activities.
Citizens can only exercise access rights when proper record keeping and retention is followed and the law providing access to records is respected. This requires that government:

  • appropriately create records;
  • understand and respect the distinction between a transitory record and a non-transitory record;
  • preserve all records that are potentially relevant to an access request once the request is received;
  • respond in an open, accurate and complete manner to access requests; and
    dispose of records only where there is legal authority to do so.”

In this increasingly complex world I believe that we have a duty to be much more transparent and much more forth coming, not just informing the public about our decisions, but the reasons for those decisions, and the options that were considered.

In late August I went over to Victoria to meet with the Deputy Commissioner of Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. I went over as an individual Trustee and made it clear to those that I met with that I was acting as an individual Trustee, and that I was preparing information to take forward to the New Westminster Board of Education to propose developing a Duty to Document policy. They are very willing to help the Board of Education develop a Duty to Document policy. They suggested that we could look at a couple of different areas that already have some Duty to Document policies. They suggested both New Zealand’s Public Records Act  and the New South Wales’ State Records Act. Both of these Acts require public offices and their local authorities to create and maintain “full and accurate records” of the activities of the office or activities.
As well the Government of Canada, in it’s Policy on Information Management  states,

6. Policy requirements

6.1 Deputy heads are responsible for:
6.1.2 ensuring that decisions and decision‑making processes are documented to account for and support the continuity of departmental operations, permit the reconstruction of the evolution of policies and programs, and allow for independent evaluation, audit, and review;

This is all about access to the reasons for decision making and making that information available to the public that we serve. I see this as happening in two ways. The first way I am proposing is that we alter our proposed Board Policy by requiring staff to present information in writing, in the form of Backgrounders, in our packages prior to our meetings. In a different document that I have forwarded to Trustees I propose altering Policy 7 Board Operations, by adding a Duty to Document and Inform section before decisions are made, requiring,

Policy 7
BOARD OPERATIONS
6. Notice and Agendas

6.3 (1) Duty to Document
All items on the Board agenda must be accompanied by a Backgrounder
(1) outlining what the purpose of the agenda item is,
(2) outlining options for the Board consideration, and
(3) making a recommendation for the Board
All presentations must be attached to the Board agenda when it is distributed. If presentations are not attached, the presentation will be postponed.
No decisions can be made by the Board without proper and full written documentation. The Board Chair and Vice-Chair are responsible for ensuring that the proper documentation is attached to Board meeting agendas when they are distributed.
No verbal reports, material or items may be added to Board meeting agendas without the unanimous consent of the Board.

The second way that I propose is for the Board to adopt the attached motion that would have the Board adopt a policy on the expectations of the retention of records and making such records openly available to the public.

Recommendation:

THAT the Operations Policy and Planning Committee recommend to the Board of Education for School District No. 40 (New Westminster) that the Board develop a Duty to Document Policy on the retention of School District records.