Supporting Learning in the CBE takes 275 FTEs

We know it’s going to be a tough budget. The province is holding per pupil funding at current levels, and removing some funding for things like aboriginal education. So, the CBE will have to do more with less.

I’ve been a big critic of the board. I see a lot of people and not a lot of value in various administrative departments. Take the legal departments with 12 FTEs who spend a lot of time trying to silence vocal trustees, or communications with 22 FTEs, who can’t build current school websites that you can find without Google.

My post from a few weeks ago talked about the great work that goes on in CBE schools. In it, I asked how various centralized CBE learning supports and departments influenced students. I didn’t see really any evidence of this in my own children’s learning. (And I’ve asked principals and teachers.)

So, I went online to try and understand how CBE supports professional development for teachers. I found a few social media connections to
I found this blog post, from Senator Patrick Burns School.

It details how the teachers spent a recent PD day. Teachers described the hands on activity they did and how they are going to share making things with students. I thought the idea of creating and supporting “Maker Culture” was kind of interesting, but struck me as something schools have been doing for years.  How many different kinds of structures, homes, musical instruments, parachutes, mechanical cars and other things have we created at our home for school projects. Maybe this is a different approach and is worthwhile learning. I’d love to know what teachers think.

The CBE’s professional development is run through a department called Innovation and Learning Technology, (I think, anyway.)  I don’t know how many staff they have, but you can see their work from their social medial links; Twitter and Google Plus. They reach a small fraction of CBE’s teaching community 500 followers and 219 members in google group.

I also found CORE (Collaborative, Online Resource Environment)  an interesting blog and site for professional sharing that is a partnership of a number of boards and even charter schools. To me, this seems like a better approach to shared professional development – let’s do it province wide. After all, what is taught in CBE schools is actually the purview of the province.

Why am I asking these questions?

Look at the current 2014-15 CBE Budget Document. There are 275 staff in just two departments that are supposed to support learning in schools.

Learning Services has a budget of  $18.2 million and employs 119 FTE staff.  “These supports and services include the areas of: aboriginal education, alternative programs, assessment, attendance, curriculum, early learning, English language learning, exceptional needs, international students, IRIS implementation, multicultural services, outreach, psychological services, and suspension.” reads the document. (Page 21)

There is another department called Learning Innovation. It has a budget of $38.7 million and a total of 166 FTE employees. According to the budget:  “Learning Innovation includes several teams that directly work with and support schools including, Corporate Partnerships, Comprehensive School Health, Campus Calgary/Open Minds, School Nutrition and Noon Hour Programs, K – 12 Curriculum including Off-Site and Off-Campus learning programs, Innovation and Learning Technologies (school technology support and professional learning), Information Technology Services, Information Management including Records Management, Student Records Systems, and Research and Innovation – reporting to the province.” (Page 23)

So yes, these departments do some critical work. I realize that some of this work is hidden for students who don’t require these services, like psychological services and aboriginal learning. I don’t think schools could do with less IT support. And student records and report cards are important.

But I think before the board of trustees approves the 2016 budget, which it will do in May, they should take a hard look at these numbers and ask some very difficult questions.

I also think they need to look at the model of how they fund these items.

An example: It used to be, when I first got involved in school board issues, that school computers and tech systems were updated through a program called Evergreening. An analysis was done at the board level and every schools’ technology was updated every three years to meet board standards. Recently, according to one of my principals, the system was changed. Schools were given an allotment for technology as part of their RAM funding. Principals, (hopefully in concert with school councils) could decide how much or what technology they wanted to update or purchase. In this way, all spending decisions were made at the school level.

How about they do the same thing with professional development. Set a rate, give schools an allotment in their RAM funding, and then let each school decide how and what to spend money on, instead of having huge a huge department at the ready. I think this would right-size those departments.

You could do the same with all funding – for psychological services, aboriginal learning, special needs support. Heck, even the area offices are simply another costly level of management. Give the money to the schools, and have them decide how much of a service they need and buy it back.

This would also empower school principals, and make parents a whole lot more interested in attending school council meetings. Imagine those parent council meetings when the principal brings in a budget, with real and transparent numbers, and choices are made together on how money is spent.

A final thought: Minister Dirks has said that front line teachers will not be cut. But the CBE considers many of these support staff to be “front line, school staff, and they count as teaching staff. (They don’t count as part of “Administration.”) As parents, we need to be sure that the RAM funding to schools is increased, and any cuts happen to these non-classroom administrative staff.