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.

***********************************

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.

Advocacy and Trusteeship under siege

School Boards and individual trustees should be advocating loud and long about the needs of their communities for a strong, well funded and supported public education system.

We have seen 2 reports over the past year on the Vancouver School Board both of which seem to have preset agendas that should be of concern to all who support publicly elected trustees for public education. I am not going to comment on what the VSB Trustees may or may not have done, but both of the reports by Roslyn Goldner and Peter Milburn raise serious questions about the roles viewed for School Boards and the publically elected School Trustees. Both of these reports seem to suggest that (1) School Boards should not be advocating for public education and (2) that School Boards should be unquestioning in their acceptance of Senior Administration recommendations. As those who know me will expect I reject both of these suggestions. For a different view see, Crawford Kilian’s Article in the Tyee and and article in the Royal City Record.

 Even with the recent victory in court by the BCTF and teachers for a return to the class size and composition rules our school system will remind significantly underfunded. We still need additional funds to continue to support resources and field studies to make learning more real to our students and to support the New Curriculum. We still need additional supports for our students than what was provided in 1998. There have been cuts to custodial and secretarial time, there are repairs and upgrades to our facilities that need to be done after years of neglect.  The list goes on. We need to continue to pressure the provincial government to provide adequate funding to meet the real needs of your public schools.

I also think that it is the duty of trustees and School Boards to question the decisions of our Senior Administration. Are the decisions in keeping with the expectations of the community, whom we represent? Are they made in a way that is keeping with the direction of the Board as provided through our Policy and School District foundational statements?

Of course I think that it is equally critically important that when we are working towards solutions that we do so in respectful and reasonable ways. But politics, and we (elected school trustees) need to remember that we are all politicians, and that even when it gets difficult and difficult decisions need to be made, it must always be respectful and reasonable, with an open mind listening to all sides. But we also need to be able to disagree both with each other and with our staff. That is where and when the best decisions are made for our children and our community.

So what do School Trustees do?  Well it turns out that it really depends on your point of view. The BC School Trustees Association says,

What Do Trustees Do?

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.

The work of a trustee

School trustees are elected to govern their districts in the interest of improving student achievement. They do this by engaging their communities in building and maintaining a school system that reflects local priorities, values and expectations. They listen to their communities, and guide the work of their school district by setting a strategic plan, amending policy as necessary, helping build an annual budget that is aligned with the strategic plan, and reporting back to the public on the progress toward district goals. They hire senior staff, approve job descriptions and administrative objectives, delegate responsibility for administration and day-to-day matters consistent with those descriptions and objectives, and monitor staff and district performance on a regular basis. Working within the policies, regulations and directives set by the provincial government, trustees act as co-governors of the provincial education system by setting the local direction for achievement, allocating available resources, and monitoring local performance.

How can we monitor local performance, how can we monitor staff and district performance without questioning and even challenging staff?

We should be demanding that our Schools Boards and Trustees speak out collectively and individually supporting the community expectations that got most of us elected.

School Board meeting Tuesday, February 28

I have been at hundreds of Board meetings over the years and never had I felt the excitement and support that was generated by the over 100 people who showed up to support the passing of the Sanctuary School Policy. Once again thanks to Mark Gifford for his leadership in bringing this forward and helping top develop the policy. We will, of course, need to monitor the implementation of this policy and we will need the public to come forward when they believe that the policy has not been properly implemented. I know that we are talking about a small number of students in this matter, but it is not acceptable to keep one child from receiving an education, while the adults figure out what to do. So I love the plan of accepting the child and working with the child in a safe environment and leaving the adults to figure out the other formalities.

We also adopted our 2016-2017 Amended Budget Tuesday night. I have made my concerns known that receiving an Amended Budget document at the last minute without it going through a committee process so that we can ask in-depth questions is not acceptable to me. We got the Amended Budget on the Thursday before the Board meeting and it had to be adopted by February 28, so there was no option to delay. We have a Work Plan in our new Policy and I plan to move an amendment so that we get the Amended Budget in either January or early February.

The Board decided to solicit expressions of interest for engagement of a consultant to facilitate the superintendent evaluation process. 

Finally we also dealt we the 2017 – 2018 New Westminster Proposed School Calendar. Please forward any concerns to the Board, we plan to adopt a School Calendar for 2017 – 2018 at our March Board meeting.

The devil is still in the details … and in the funding ….

It’s great for our students and for education that an agreement has been reached, and so quickly (thank goodness for Supreme Courts and Elections) on the restoration of the illegally stripped language from the teacher’s contracts.

This restoration takes us back to 2000 with the language on class size, specialist teachers and class composition, although I understand that class composition will also will be going to a “a provincial joint committee to examine and resolve any outstanding issues related to class composition.”

But we need to clearly understand the resolution of this 15 year battle, and battle it was, is only the beginning of the battle to get proper funding that supports our children and provides them with the levels of services that they need. I am just waiting for Premier Clark to come out and blame all of this on the BCTF. I can hear her now, ‘if only the BCTF had dropped their lawsuit we could have put more money in years ago.’ BS of course. These past 15 years have been all about damaging public education and supporting their elitist friends in the private schools, particularly the elite private schools.

We need to remember, and remind both the public and our members, that teachers paid for class size and composition by giving up a wage increase in the 1998 contract. That wage increase, compounded not only over the past 15 years but over the life of my pension, amounts to tens of thousands of dollars to myself personally and many other teachers.  One of the things that impressed me about the teachers and the BCTF in regards to the illegal stripping of our contract was that there was no desire by teachers to receive personal compensation for what was taken from them. This truly was all about returning services to our students.

We also need to be clear that this does not bring public education back up to where it should be after 15 years of neglect. This restores the illegally stripped clauses from our contract, but it does not add in any new money for the necessary infrastructure to run the system. We still do not have adequate money for resources or field studies to make learning more real to our students and to support the New Curriculum. And we still need additional supports for our students than what was provided in 1998. There have been cuts to custodial and secretarial time, there are repairs and upgrades to our facilities that need to be done after years of neglect.  The list goes on.

As I said in the heading the devil is in the details and the funding. I am looking forward to seeing what school districts will be getting from the Liberal government this Friday, March 10 as our District grant for 2017 – 2018 and then I am looking forward to seeing if this settlement is really going to be fully funded (including the physical space to house the new classrooms), without us having to reduce support or administrative services to pay for the government’s actions. On that I will wait and watch, but, quite frankly, not trust. I need to see the money, and we need a government that will really make public education a priority after this government  has spent hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars trying to restrict services to children.

New Westminster School Board Operations Committee (Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

At tomorrow night’s New Westminster School Board Operations Committee Meeting, we will be discussing our monthly Financial update (I’m hoping for some idea of how much all of this snow and cold has cost us, as well as a projection of what sort of surplus we might be looking at this year).

As well we will be getting Maintenance and Capital Projects updates, and finally we will be spending some time on our new Draft Policy Manual.

I have said before that I have developed some significant concerns about what role Trustees will play in this District if this new policy Manual is adopted.

The BC School Trustees Association says that the work of a trustee is “Working within the policies, regulations and directives set by the provincial government, trustees act as co-governors of the provincial education system by setting the local direction for achievement, allocating available resources, and monitoring local performance.”

In New Westminster I believe that we, as a Board, are withdrawing from the role of monitoring local performance and having input into how decisions on improving education are made.

In the western democracies the role of elected officials has always been to take the information presented by knowledgable professionals and use our knowledge of the community and our personal philosophies from which we were elected by the public to determine the directions that should be taken. Elected officials are not elected to sit back and simply agree with administration or simply accept administration’s recommendations. We should be discussing, challenging and having our professional staff make decisions within the desires, wants and needs of the community, based on our, the elected officials, knowledge of that community. Otherwise why elect anyone?  Why have Trustees?

Trustees give direction through the development of policy, through the collective will of the Board. Then we need to hold our Senior Administration accountable for how they implement that direction. Currently under our new policy direction that accountability will only happen once a year during the Superintendents evaluation. I believe that it must be constant. That we should be constantly reflecting on how are our employees are carrying out the direction of the Board for improving education in New Westminster.  It should be done at every Board meeting and at every Committee meeting, we need to be constantly asking:  how are we doing and what do we believe needs to be done?