Time for Some Changes – Part 5

Oct. 28, 2011
By Linda Travers

Today I’ll talk about fairness and efficiency of public input.

SD61’s Bylaw 9360 General Meeting of the Board states that the meetings will be conducted in two major sections. The first being the agenda, minutes and acceptance of presentations from the public and employee groups. The second section will be for the consideration of Board Committee Reports and Special Reports to the Board.

The public presentations will be limited to 5 minutes for each individual with a limit of 3 speakers per issue. Also that there will be no public debate with presenters as only information will be received. As well, the total public time will be limited to 30 minutes.

There are problems with this Bylaw.

First, speakers wanting to make public presentations must contact the Board Secretary with their topic title on the Wednesday before the Monday meeting. This timing is also a problem as the agenda for the meeting is not posted until the Friday following the Wednesday. A speaker is at the mercy of the Board Chair as to whether or not he will allow someone to speak to an issue on the agenda if they haven’t met the Wednesday deadline.

Second, is the monitoring of the public presentations. The Bylaw says the total public time is 30 minutes. One would assume that with only 3 public speakers, then each speaker would be entitled to 10 minutes. However, all speakers are told to wrap up their presentation as their 5 minutes is up.

Third, public input comes at the beginning of the Agenda. That means that the public has no opportunity to comment on any reports being given. It is interesting to see on Agendas from other school districts, that after the Superintendent has given a report there is a 15 minute public question/comments time. And also after Action items such as a Capital Project Bylaw, impacts of government rulings etc. there is a second public question/comment period.

Fourth, public presentation time is also used for employee groups’ presentations. All of the employee groups sit at the Board table. I would assume that privilege means they are entitled to speak at any time.

The current trustees have practiced this culture of impeding public participation for many years. Vote for new trustees who will encourage authentic democracy and full accountability to the common good.

Time for Some Changes – Part 1

By Linda Travers

October 12, 2011
I first became aware of the importance of involvement in SD61 (Greater Victoria) governance after reading a press release on Jan. 17, 2007. That press release was announcing the sale of Fairburn Elementary School property in my neighbourhood to a private developer. The trustees at that time were Tom Ferris, Charlie Beresford, Jim Holland, Bev Horsman, Elaine Leonard, Michael McEvoy, Peg Orcherton, Mark Walsh and John Young. In a neighbourhood survey done by the Friends of Fairburn 62% of the respondents “were not aware” the property was for sale. No meeting was ever held to change its status from lease to sale. This sale was made despite the Board Chair’s promise in 2003 “that schools slated for closure would not be sold.”

Since then I have been attending SD61 trustee Committee & Board of Education meetings to monitor governance and decision making as it impacts on SD61 public education. It is crucial for us to elect school trustees who support policies good for public education, are financially responsible and conduct our public affairs in an open, transparent and accountable process. I believe they are well paid to do this. The June 2011 SD61 District Financial Statement shows the 9 trustees were paid $161,316.00 in remuneration and $12,895.74 in expenses, a total of $174,212.74

I will be sharing information I’ve observed from September 2009 to the present time when attending the 2 or 3 regular monthly public board meetings + the public budget meetings. I hope this information will help you to make an informed decision when electing the trustees on Nov. 19, 2011 to serve for the 2011 – 2014 term.

Time for Some Changes – Part 4

Oct. 20,2011
by Linda Travers

Have you ever arrived at a public meeting to find people standing around because they were locked out of the meeting room? That’s what usually happens when you arrive at SD61 (Greater Victoria) Board of Education meetings held at the Tolmie Building. SD trustee meetings held there are usually preceded by In-Camera meetings so hence the locked door.

Because In-Camera decisions were rarely disclosed at the public meetings, I had to use Section 72 of the School Act that says that a board must prepare a record containing a general statement as to the nature of the matters discussed and the general nature of the decisions reached at a meeting from which persons other than trustees or officers of the board, or both, were excluded, and the record must be open for inspection at all reasonable times by any person.In reading those records, I discovered that SD61 Bylaw 9255.2 was not being followed. Trustees were discussing matters which should have been discussed in public.

With Trustee Pitre’s help we initiated the writing of the new Bylaw for In- Camera meetings. It is Bylaw 9360.1 dated March 28, 2011. It says that In-Camera items that may be discussed confidentially include legal, property, personnel and privacy matters as defined by provincial legislation. And that any matter to be brought to the public from an In-Camera meeting will be done upon an approved motion of the Board. I am pleased that now the Section 72 report can be read on the SD61 website – http://www.sd61.bc.ca/boardagendas.aspx. Unfortunately the general nature of the decisions reached are still not being recorded. Also, matters beyond legal, property, personnel and privacy are being discussed.

Question: Would electing new trustees on Nov. 19, 2011 ensure a more open, transparent attitude to the sharing of information?

Time for Some Changes in School District 61 (Greater Victoria) – Part 2

By Linda Travers
Oct. 15, 2011

The fall 2008 election for school trustees saw the replacement of two trustees – Charley Beresford who didn’t run for re-election and Mark Walsh who was defeated.
On Nov. 19, 2011 voters will decide whether or not to replace the trustees elected in 2008 – Catherine Alpha, Tom Ferris, Jim Holland, Bev. Horsman, Elaine Leonard, Michael McEvoy, Peg Orcherton, Dave Pitre and John Young.

I was saddened by the fact that these trustees refused further discussion of my suggestion at the April 6, 2011 Budget meetings to apply to the Minister of Education for two fewer SD61 trustees. I suggested that the approximately $38,000.00 per year or $190,000.00 over 5 years could pay part of a teacher’s salary or a classroom aide’s salary as just two examples to provide for unmet students’ needs parents and staff had made presentations about at Board meetings. SD61’s Mission Statement states,“ The Greater Victoria School District is committed to each student’s success in learning within a responsive and safe environment.”The School Act says,“a board consists of 3, 5, 7 or 9 trustees.”Surrey (69,109 students), Burnaby (25,764 students), Richmond, (22,971 students),and Central Okanagan (21,919 students), all with more students than SD61(20,470 students) have 7 trustees. Much larger Districts, such as Vancouver (59,978 students) and Coquitlam (32,588 students) have the same number of 9 trustees as SD61.

What is a compelling Budget priority? Is it to have the same number of Trustees as School Districts with more students? Or is it to address issues to improve the learning environment in District 61 schools?

Candidates in the running for Greater Victoria School District 61 municipal election

There are a few new faces in the running for trustee positions in the upcoming municipal election.

Here is the list posted on Greater Victoria School District 61’s website. You can find it here.

Alpha, Catherine – Incumbent
Bratzer, David
Ferris, Tom – Incumbent
Holland, Jim – Incumbent
Horsman, Bev – Incumbent
Leonard, Elaine – Incumbent
Loring-Kuhanga, Edith
McEvoy, Michael – Incumbent
McNally, Diane
Nohr, Deborah
Orcherton, Peg – Incumbent
Paynter, Rob
Pitre, David – Incumbent
Rand, David
Stern, Richard
Young, John A. – Incumbent

BClocalnews.com has published a bit more about each of the candidates listed. Read more in their Oct 14, 2011 article Candidates for board of education trustees line up

Time for Some Changes – Part 3

By Linda Travers
Oct. 18, 2011

Today, in my third article, I will focus my comments on transparency, or rather the lack of it, of the nine trustees who were elected in 2008 to the SD61 (Greater Victoria) Board of Education. The voters will be going to the polls on Nov. 19,2011 to elect nine trustees from a slate of sixteen candidates. All the current trustees are running again.

SD61 Bylaw 9368 states, “ In all meetings of the Board of Trustees, procedures shall be governed by Robert’s Rule’s of Order.” Robert’s Rules of Order are a set of rules for conducting meetings that allow everyone to be heard and to make decisions without confusion.

Over the past three years, I’ve seen much confusion by the trustees in using the rules for conducting motions to ensure SD61 business was accomplished in a clear manner. As a result there is confusion for both the trustees as well as for the public in attendance as to the intent and the implementation. It’s unfortunate that the Board Chair has not taken the opportunity to attend a course on Robert’s Rules provided by the BC School Trustee Association.

Motions from the two Committee meetings and the Board of Education meetings are recorded in the Minutes saying “It was moved and seconded…”One would have to be in attendance at the meeting to see who moved and who seconded the motions and how the trustees voted. The vote is simply recorded as “motion carried” or if it’s a motion requiring unanimous approval (usually a money or property issue) the minutes will record “motion carried unanimously. “Often it is impossible for the public to see how the trustees vote as the speakers’ podium blocks the public’s view of the trustees. It appears that if more than half of the hands go up, the Chair often omits asking for a show of hands for those opposed. Any trustee wanting their negative vote recorded in the minutes must ask to have that done.

Question: Why can’t citizens see a record of the way the elected trustees are voting on issues as is done by Boards of Education in other Districts?

How to judge a School Board candidate – by their record

Reposted from Staffroom Confidential. Read the post here.
Written by Tara Ehrcke

With Trustee elections less than a month away, my usual frustration is mounting over how little “accountability” there is for School Board Trustees.

Every Trustee candidate I know would proudly say that they “support public education”. That they will “stand up for schools and communities”. That they will be “advocates”.

Sorry. That’s not good enough. I hear those phrases from the 1% when they are in fact trying to pass policies that do exactly the opposite.

So my advice to anyone out there thinking about who to vote for? Watch what they DO, not what they SAY. Huge difference.

Let’s take Victoria Trustees for example.

Probably all 13 running for School Board would say they support “quality” education. Many would say they support “small classes” and “supports for students”. But the raw reality is this:

Only ONE….that’s right ONE Trustee actually voted AGAINST a class organization that included HUNDREDS of classes that exceed School Act limits. That one was Catherine Alpha.

Despite their “progressive” leanings and profession of supporting teachers, students and schools, not a single other incumbent Trustee insisted that class sizes and class composition in Victoria schools should stay within the legislated limits by voting against the class organization report (the limits are 30 students, no more than 3 with special needs). Not even the candidates (Peg Orcherton and Bev Horsman) who were endorsed by the Labour Council would stand up for kids and classroom conditions and insist that legislated limits are adhered to by voting against the report.

It’s very easy for candidates to say all the things they know that you want to hear…right around election time. Be careful and insist on the facts. Only voting records and their actions in public office tell the true story.

Time for Some Changes in School District 61 (Greater Victoria)

By Linda Travers
Chapter 2: Oct. 15, 2011

The fall 2008 election for school trustees saw the replacement of two trustees – Charley Beresford who didn’t run for re-election and Mark Walsh who was defeated.
On Nov. 19, 2011 voters will decide whether or not to replace the trustees elected in 2008 – Catherine Alpha, Tom Ferris, Jim Holland, Bev. Horsman, Elaine Leonard, Michael McEvoy, Peg Orcherton, Dave Pitre and John Young.

I was saddened by the fact that these trustees refused further discussion of my suggestion at the April 6, 2011 Budget meetings to apply to the Minister of Education for two fewer SD61 trustees. I suggested that the approximately $38,000.00 per year or $190,000.00 over 5 years could pay part of a teacher’s salary or a classroom aide’s salary as just two examples to provide for unmet students’ needs parents and staff had made presentations about at Board meetings. SD61’s Mission Statement states,“ The Greater Victoria School District is committed to each student’s success in learning within a responsive and safe environment.”The School Act says,“a board consists of 3, 5, 7 or 9 trustees.”Surrey (69,109 students), Burnaby (25,764 students), Richmond, (22,971 students),and Central Okanagan (21,919 students), all with more students than SD61(20,470 students) have 7 trustees. Much larger Districts, such as Vancouver (59,978 students) and Coquitlam (32,588 students) have the same number of 9 trustees as SD61.

What is a compelling Budget priority? Is it to have the same number of Trustees as School Districts with more students? Or is it to address issues to improve the learning environment in District 61 schools?

Report of Nov. 8, 2010 SD61 Operations Policy & Planning Committee Meeting

by Linda Travers

The Good:
· Presentations by a SD61 teacher (GVTA Health & Safety Rep), 2 parents & 2 community members on Wireless Technology health issues for children. The speakers urged the trustees to take a precautionary approach to installing further WIFI technology in schools especially since there are easy ways to enable wired-in technology.
· Presentation by a parent that without WIFI his child would not be able to use his laptop computer necessary for his school progress.
· Five trustees in attendance (Trustees Horsman & McEvoy absent) approved sending Trustee Orcherton’s motion – to take a precautionary approach until SD61’s Health and Safety Committee can review the issues surrounding WIFI – to the Nov. 15 SD61 Board of Education meeting.
· Approval, with amendment, to Trustee Alpha’s motion for the public & trustees to send additional changes to the In-Camera Bylaw 9360.1 and Policy/Regulation 3501 Annual Operating Bylaw 3501 for further discussion at the Jan. 2011 Board meetings.
· The Chair (Leonard) was gracious in allowing questions & dialogue between the public, the trustees & administration about all the Agenda items.

Improvement Needed:
· Bylaw 9368 states “In all meetings of the Board of Trustees, procedures shall be governed by Robert’s Rules of Orders.” These orders require the Chair to ask members to vote in favor or in opposition. Only 4 hands went up to approve the motion and yet 7 trustees were at the meeting. The public has no way of knowing how 3 trustees voted as the Chair did not ask “those opposed”.

The Questions:
· Why was the Secretary-Treasurer instead of the elected school trustees presenting information in favor of WIFI technology?
· Why are suggestions by the trustees and the public to improve the In-Camera Bylaw 9360, as well as the suggestions for Policy & Regulation 3501 Annual Operating Budget, going to the Secretary-Treasurer?