Vancouver School Board cuts teaching positions

For the sake of preserving a reserve fund NPA dominated Vancouver School Board cut another small piece of the ground from under the feet of special needs students. Suggesting that their action was fiscally responsible and noting that staffing levels were just the same as at the start of 2005-2006 NPA trustees seem confident that cutting resource teachers and learning assistance teachers is okay.

The eliminated positions were added in January 2006 during the frenzy of the one-time funding dropped on school boards as a result of the October Strike. In early budget papers the School Board was planning to cut even deeper than the 26 FTE (full time equivalent positions) that they have cut at this time. To partially cushion the blow the board has created full-time teacher on call positions from the regular TOC budget to keep the laid-off teachers in the system. As an aside, the TOC issue is a major one that is affecting districts across the province and while it has disappeared from the news it remains a major difficulty in the everyday lives of our schools.

From CBC News
The Vancouver School Board voted Wednesday to boost its reserve budget for the upcoming school year by cutting at least 25 teaching positions.

By a 5-3 vote, the board eliminated jobs for librarians, English-as-a-second-language instructors and special-needs teachers. The cuts will allow the board to add $1.5 million to its reserve budget.

Board member Eleanor Gregory said the reserve fund must be topped up to cover expenses arising from the deal that ended last year’s teacher’s strike. “We know we will have immediate needs in our next budget year … in the order of several million dollars,” Gregory said.

B.C. teachers ended a bitter two-week strike in 2005 after they approved a settlement proposed by mediator Vince Ready to get them through this school year.

* FROM APRIL 21, 2006: Teachers ready to talk money

* LINK: Facilitator Vince Ready’s report (.pdf) External site

Board member Allen Wong voted against the cuts. He says the reserve budget has historically been in the $3-million to $4-million range, and didn’t need to be topped up to nearly $6 million.

“We’re taking money away from educating our vulnerable students and just socking it into the reserve,” Wong said.

He adds that it will be more difficult to ask the province for additional funding when the board’s reserve fund is sitting at record levels.

Gregory says about $2.5 million of the reserve budget will go toward increasing the pay of on-call teachers.

Moral Victory, Baby Steps, or Just the Staus Quo? Class Size and Composition Legislation

BC’s Minister of Education rose in the house yesterday (April 27, 2006) to introduce Bill 33,
Education (Learning Enhancement) Statute Amendment. This rather innocuous sounding bill does make some significant changes in BC’s education system. It is important to give credit where credit is due. Without the October 2005 BC teachers’ strike it is very unlikely that the government would have come anywhere near introducing the changes that they have under this bill.

The key points:

  • Legislated class size limits of 30 across the board.
  • For grades 4-7 teachers must agree if more than three students with an individual education plan (IEP) are enrolled in the class.
  • For grades 8-12 teachers must be consulted if more than three students with an IEP are to be enrolled in their class.
  • Districts must prepare reports by a set date and explain why they have classes over the caps.

Former Vancouver school trustee and retired school principle, Noel Heron notes that

“This morning’s n Vancouver Sun brings good news to the class size front with surprisingly reasonable class size limits being, for the first time, written into legislation. At last the provincial government has got the message that no more than three special needs kids should be placed in regular classrooms and that a maximum number of 30 kids in Grades 4-12 should be in place. This is a breakthrough and avoids the class averages shenanigans that preceded this legislation in many school districts. Also, it appears that the delinquent boards will have to fess up and comply with the legislation as 15 of the 60 school boards ignored guidelines in the past. The minister, to her credit, recognized that with the three recalcitrant provincial “partners” at the Round Table that no consensus was possible now or even emerging, so Victoria moved promptly to table this bill which also removes, in large measure, some of the roadblocks to a provincial settlement with BCTF.”

These are important points. This is a first for BC. It is also a recognition of the public support for the teachers’ unions and their strong stand in support of public education. It is not, however, the end of the process.

The key problems with this legislation is that it is in great part merely the codification of what has already become standard practice throughout most of the province. The 30 student cap is in general too high and will remain especially so when those 30 students continue to include 3 or more students with designated learning needs that require an IEP plus the grey area students who are there but not noted.

To allow for effective instruction students with IEPs should really be double counted, as there where in several of the striped teachers’ contracts. As a parent I am well aware that children with IEPs very often require far more attention –that is if we want them to achieve their educational potential- then a normal student. Thus, the effective is that even with a 30 student cap having three or more IEP students will present as though the class is a bigger class than the number suggests.

What sort of resources might be required to make this really work? Well, we will need more extensive and more effective inservice training for teachers. We should have additional Special Education Assistants who are trained to work with specific learning needs. We will need to have funds to hire additional enrolling teachers to ensure an adequate available and choice of courses for all students. There are also facilities implications. There will need to be sufficient classrooms to add classes if required.

There is also the implications for classroom teachers who are being asked to accept overload situations of IEPs in their classrooms. Will they have the ability to really say no? Imagine the impact of being in a small school with very involved parents and an administrator who is insistent? Is it possible to say no? One can also imagine a teacher eager to please who takes in every student that s/he is asked to. Irrespective of any hypothetical model the structural relations in the workplace that include other teachers, administrators, parents, the students, and community expectations in general will have much to say about whether a teacher will really be able to exercise any choice in the matter. On this the legislation is notably silent.

The one clear message here is that the solidarity of teachers, parents, and the wider community that was demonstrated in the October Strike. This has had an important impact on how the provincial government has acted. They are keen to clear the way of any hint of political protest in the lead up to the Olympic Circus and they are very much aware of the powerful support of teachers from the parent and wider communities. Realizing this, the government has been compelled to move to avert a major social conflict that they may well have lost or at the very least would have had an adverse impact on the image they are trying to construct.

The legislation thus affirms what many of us have said all along. That is, effective policy must be in place related to class size and class composition for all students to learn tot heir best ability. By codifying the status quo we will at least now have a base upon which to begin walking forward.

Related resources
BCTF Staff Alert
Ministry of Education Press Release
BCCPAC (Parent group) provides link to government page. . . and late Friday issues it’s own press release.
CBC story related to cost of Bill 33. (Download pdf version)

Sacrificing Public Education

Across British Columbia School Boards are busy finalizing budget plans for next year. As part of that process they are making decisions about the educational services that tehy will offer for the following year. Some of the districts, like New Westminster, for example, are struggling with their attempts to enter the foray of venture capitalism (see earlier comment for details). Others, like Vancouver, are planning not to rehire teaches hired with the so-called ‘one-time-funds‘ money. Yet other districts are simply closing schools to make up for the problems of rising costs and insufficient educational funding.

However, parents rarely take this sitting down. From the early Wells school closure to Forest Grove and now the impending Tsolum School closure parent groups have made a strong case that even in the face of the cold arithmetic of the provincial government, school districts need to place the learning needs of students, families, and their communities first.

As struggles in places for the Forest Grove and Tsolum Schools show schools are more than simply factories for producing students. They very often play a role in the heart of communities; especially for rural communities. Typically people charged with the task of closing schools see opposition as merely the expression of unreasonable people who have put their own personal interests first. I would suggest that while this may play a part of the process, the key issues are typically far more important and fundamental than individual self-interest. As noted above, schools take on a role of community centre and in so doing very often act as important nodal points in human interaction. As a parent waiting outside a school to pick up one’s children we will meet and great other parents building a network of solidarity and connection that, however fleeting, plays an important role in the fabric of a civil society.

Closing schools is part of a process of closing society and reducing social connections to abstract fiscal relations. Rather than considering how to close schools we really should be trying to figure out how to open more, smaller schools. That would really be putting education first.

Information on Budget Cuts and School Closures

BCTF Data Page
BCCPAC School Closure Page
Commox Valley School District page on school closures
CBC New Stories on School Closures

Cost of War in Iraq

This is a bit of a step away from the focus of the blog. I have added it to highlight the way spending priorities are made. The U.S. government follows a fairly similar economic and governance philosophy as does the BC. Liberals. This is not, of course, to say that the governments are the same. However, the ways in which neo-liberal/neo-conservative governments prioritizes spending is illuminating. It is unlikely that a provincial government such as our would go into debt or radically increase spending for public education. However, as their political cousins in Washington D.C. demonstrate they will increase spending when it comes to the machinery of security and arms.

The following item is from a U.S. based web page that allows one to compare the cost of the war in Iraq with the possible expenditures on public education, healthcare, infrastructure etc in the U.S. It is an amazing amount of $U.S..

Cost of the War in Iraq
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Background Information on the Calculator

The Cost of War calculator is set to reach $251 billion March 31, 2006. The Cost of Iraq War calculator is occasionally reset based on new information and new allocations of funding.

Previously, the National Priorities Project estimated the cost of the Iraq War by analyzing the legislation for the appropriations made by Congress for the Iraq War. Through fiscal year 2005, this totaled about $205 billion. At the end of September 2005, Congress allocated more money for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars as well as enhanced security abroad (in the continuing resolution).

In October 2005, a report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) concluded that $251 billion had been obligated or appropriated for the Iraq War. The research was based not just on Congressional appropriations, but on the Department of Defense’s (DOD) DFAS monthly obligations reports. The researcher also concluded that as war-related expenses were higher than anticipated, the DOD transferred money from peacetime funds (which they were permitted to do under certain circumstances as outlined in appropriations legislation). The DOD also transferred funds appropriated for Afghanistan or general war to the Iraq War.

The Cost of Iraq War counter is now based on the $251 billion for the Iraq War as concluded in the CRS report.

The numbers include military operations, reconstruction and other spending related to the Iraq invasion and occupation. Spending only includes “incremental” costs, additional funds that are expended due to the war. For example, soldiers’ regular pay is not included, but combat pay is included. Potential future costs, such as future health care for soldiers and veterans wounded in the war, are not included. It is also not clear whether the current funding will cover all military wear and tear. It also does not account for the contribution of war spending to the deficits incurred in the federal budget. In other words, we have not included the cost of interest on the debt.

The media sometimes cites a figure of $300 – $350 billion. However, this number is for the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War and for enhanced security abroad. Our figure is only covering the cost of the Iraq War as it relates to the U.S. federal budget (and does not include costs to others or other countries or any economic impact costs to Americans).

We also publish Local Costs of the Iraq War which includes the total cost allocated to date for numerous towns and counties across the country. This list is also more regularly updated with new locations than the list of the Cost of War counter

U.S. National Priorities Project

Nanaimo Edutopia: A Nanaimo online blog forum for educational issues.

A recent blog on educational issues focussed on the Nanaimo area of vancouver Island is worth taking a look at and putting a link on your bookmark page to. The blog author describes the blog as follows:

This blog is for parents, students, educators and those who are passionate about education. It is a blog that is moderated by a parent and an educational professional. Its intent is to provide an online forum for educational debates, fact-finding, problem solving, and advocacy for students’ needs in this region.

You can find the blog at Nanaimo Edutopia. I’ve also added a permanent link to it in the Educational Resources Links sidebar.

What is a Right? late Breaking BCCPAC Resolution.

One late resolution for the BCCPAC highlights the topic of rights. It’s actually a mechanism designed to limit the capacity of students and their parents to ensure that children received an equitable and effective education.

By framing the resolution in the context of human rights the authors of this resolution have cleverly shifted attention from the collective right of students in general to have access to adequate educational services and the right of workers to have a modicum of control over the conditions of their work to one of individual rights. Paradoxically this particular assertion of individual rights runs counter to the individual rights of other students. It further attempts to challenge the notion of ‘labels’ as in someway denying and undermining individuality.

Given the high cultural value placed on individuals in our society this should perhaps not be surprising. And, that one individual’s rights may run against the grain of someone else is part of the problem of a society based solely upon the rights of individuals.

What is needed are compromises that recognize the impossibility of unbridled individual rights. As a parent of children with special learning needs I can honestly say that I don’t want more than one or two of them in the same class. First, I want my child to be able to learn to the best of his abilities. If he is one of 2, 3,4, or more such students in a class of 25-30 I know that he won’t learn and that others in the class will lose out as well.

I can appreciate that some parents have a hard time accepting that their child might have a learning disability, for example, and want to reject any type of label or designation. Other parents want their child forced into what ever class they want, when they want, devil take the hindmost, let the class size go up and the composition unbalance. But if we really want to place the learning needs of all children front and center then we will have to recognize that some limitations are required -especially if our government is unwilling to fully fund the real cost of public education.

The resolution should really read: “No rights for learning. Let us pile as many kids as we can into every class. Let us wait until conflict erupts between parents and let them fight it out to determine who will get to stay in the class.”

Read on to see the resolution in question. New BCCPAC Late Resolution

#20 – Ensuring the Rights of all Students.

That the BCCPAC advise all education partners that limiting the number of students in classrooms based on designations or labels is discriminiatory and as such, legislation or employee contracts must not contain wording that promotes or creates such limits.

Submitted by the Victoria CPAC

On February 24, 2006 we received BCTF’s recommendations to the learning roundtable. #4 states, “Section 76.1 of the Act {school act} be amended to ensure that no class, except a class that enrols only students with special needs, either enrol or integrate more than two (2) studenst with special needs or more than one (1) student who meets the definition of a student with special needs (low incidence)”

VCPAC believes this is a violation of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The current debated on class size and composition includes discussion on placing limits on the number of students, labelled as having special needs, permitted in any given classroom.

Decisions based on the unique needs of each student are sound education practice. Decisions based on group characteristics are inherently discriminiatory. Belonging in a classroom is an individual right and should be supported unconditionally.

Many believe that classrooms are experiencing difficulty due to the wide variety of student learning styles and needs. This is a training and resource issue, not a reflection of the quality or value of our children.

Research Presentations on Public Education and Natural Resources

You are cordially invited to a UBC applied anthropology (RMES500Q /ANTH 409A) student research project presentation (project descriptions below).

These presentations will take place Wednesday, April 5 2006 from 6:30 – 9:30. Each project presentation will last from 20-25 minutes with an opportunity for discussion, questions, and feedback and then a short break to transition to the next project presentation.

Light refreshments will be served from 6:15 pm.

Presentations in room 205 of the Anthropology/Sociology Building, 6303 NW Marine Drive. Parking is available in the metered lot in front of the AnSo Building and the Museum of Anthropology or across the street in the rose Garden Parkade.

For more information email RSVPs appreciated

Presentation Order:

6:30 pm. Urban seed histories. Partnered with Farm Folk/City Folk.
In collaboration with FarmFolk/CityFolk­a local non-profit organization committed to environmentally beneficial agricultural practices­students will investigate the propagation of seeds in urban gardens.

7:15 pm. Social impact assessment of fisheries quota management systems. Partnered with T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. The objective of this project is to identify the social impact of fisheries quota systems on small-scale commercial fishermen and their communities. Conducted in collaboration with the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, the student researchers will interview small-scale fishermen to identify their concerns with respect to fisheries quota management systems.

8:00 Grade ten exams and graduation rates. Partnered with BC Society for Public Education. The aim of the project is to examine the effect of BC’s new Grade 10 provincial examinations on secondary school enrollment and completion. Research will include reference to data provided by Statistics Canada on graduation rates; research undertaken in other jurisdictions about factors affecting graduation rates; Grade 10 exam results provided by BC’s Ministry of Education; information obtained through interviews with secondary school guidance counselors; and if feasible, interviews with secondary school drop-outs who are over the age of 19. The researchers will make a particular effort to determine whether provincial examinations, including the new Grade 10 provincial examinations, are having, or are likely to have, a disproportionate effect on the enrollment and graduation rates of aboriginal students or other at-risk group of students.

8:45 pm. Gobalization and teaching in public schools. Partnered with BC Teachers Federation.
Working in cooperation with the B.C.T.F. student researchers aim to explore the impact of globalization on elementary school teachers and classroom settings. The students will participating in and observing groups of teachers discussing the issue of globalization. Students will also conduct interviews with interested elementary level teachers

UBC Faculty Association Signs Tentative Agreement

Message from Elliott Burnell, President, UBC Faculty Association

I am pleased to inform you that, with the help of mediator Mark Brown of the Labour Relations Board, the Faculty Association has today reached a four-year settlement with the UBC Administration. This agreement includes the “signing bonus”, wage increases in each year and language improvements -details will be sent to all members early next week, and an information meeting will follow the AGM Thursday April 6, 2006. Ratification of the agreement will be by electronic ballot – we will inform you of details next week.

Best regards on behalf of the Faculty Association Bargaining Team and the

The tentative agreement for the period July 1, 2006 – June 30, 2010 provides for a monetary package totaling 13% over the four years of the Agreement, out of which are costed $3.2 million in retention funds, $600,000 for a subsidiary agreement with the Sauder School of Business, and $268,000 in other targeted increases – $50,000 to be applied to the Librarians’ minimum scale, and $218,000 to be spent in Nursing across both campuses.

Following the deductions noted above, the monetary package includes general wage increases and market adjustments for all members in each year and a flat-rate increase ($962 per FTE in year one) designed to provide additional benefit to those with lower salaries. The agreement also provides for a signing bonus totaling $10.95 million ($3,255 per member) less statutory benefits, to be divided among members of the bargaining unit.

In addition to the monetary terms, the agreement provides for a number of changes to the Agreement on the Framework for Collective Bargaining, including:

  • re-writing articles throughout to reference all members of the bargaining unit, including Librarians and Program Directors;
  • substantial expansion of the definition of academic freedom to reflect that contained in University policy;
    provision for a joint consultation committee to address issues of mutual concern on an ongoing basis;

  • explicit recognition of the right to be consulted on matters of workload;
  • improved access of the Association to information held by the University

Leave of Absence provisions have been amended to increase clarity, and to ensure that members on medical, maternity or parental leave do not face excessive delays in eligibility for study leave. As of this July 1, 2006, up to six months of each medical, maternity or parental leave can be counted as full-time service toward sabbatical.

Finally, the tentative agreement creates a process whereby significant issues that could not be fully resolved by the March 31st deadline will continue to be discussed. Under this process, negotiations regarding the abolition of mandatory retirement will continue, with agreement to involve an external facilitator if the issue remains unresolved after 31 December, 2006.