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.









The benefits of a Balanced Day

We know the CBE can’t continue to operate as it has. The budget imbalance is growing, and the status quo isn’t working. We need to think about a range of things differently. Parents are also looking at school fees that continue to edge upwards.

Things have to change.

What changes could be made to improve student learning and help the budget?

I’d like to suggest that how we organize school days could help.

In Ontario, most schools have moved to a provincially-mandated Balanced Day schedule. This is where students start school, have two hours of instruction, followed by a 40 minute break (20 minutes for eating, and 20 minutes for outdoor play). They then have another 2 hours of instruction, then a similar 40 minute break. After the second break comes another 2 hours of instruction. The breaks ensure the day is broken into equal and productive work blocks.

Compare the two sets of schedules:

Ontario balanced day scenario:

balanced day hours

emh hours

This is an example of a Calgary elementary school schedule. There is a morning recess at 10:15, not listed, and no afternoon recess. Those were cut out many years ago at most schools. The result is an afternoon block from 12:27 to 2:53 p.m. with no break. Where as in the morning, when the kids are probably mostly on task, they break after less than 90 minutes. The morning is broken up with recess, while the afternoon time lags without a break.

Balanced day better reflects how kids should eat (smaller, more frequent meals) and cuts down on the costly transition time – putting on coats and boots. As well, many parents will tell you that when it`s very cold out, a full 40 minutes of outside play time is too much.

There have been a number of studies that show the benefits of balanced day on learning.

So, how could this impact the CBE? It could change the way the organization thinks about lunch and lunch room supervision – and the fees that go with it.

CBE receives $4.6 million in fees. Parents pay between $250 and $270 for lunch room supervision for the year, which works out to about $1.50 per day. There is an entire bureaucracy created to manage fees. There are six fee clerks and one supervisor to collect these fees. Non Payers over the threshold of $15 are sent to a collection agency, which then takes 30 per cent of anything recovered. (There is a moral question about using collection agencies for collecting fees, but that is a topic for another post.)

The budget document, on page 80, says that fees only cover 75 per cent of the cost of the program, the rest is paid for out of school funds. (ie, instructional grants.) Up to 6.7 per cent of what is paid by parents is diverted to cover admin costs. ($16.78 per student.)

For the 2012-13 school year, 88 per cent of the $21.7 million in assessed fees were paid. But another table shows 17.4 per cent of students, more than 8,000, were either granted waivers, or did not pay for lunch room supervision.

Lunchroom supervisors are paid between $18.68 and $23.02 per hour, and work about 10 hours per week. (I took this from a recent job posting.)  Now, remember, that you only need them for one of those hours, and you realize that there is a lot of wasted money.

How much money We don’t really know. There isn’t a line item in the budget to explain it. Some schools, like middle schools, get teachers to supervise over the lunch hour because they only have a couple of grade 5-6 classes. In my kids’ elementary schools, kids are bunched in groups of 50 plus. They sit on the floor to eat. It’s not ideal.

Moving to a balanced day could mean that the lunch room supervision staff actually work the two hours they are paid for. Or it could mean schools move to a system where teachers pick up the supervision duties – saving the cost of the extra staff.

I know many of you would say that the teacher’s union would never go for that. In our Ontario school board there were 2 PD days all year. That’s it. Teachers got prep time during the day, when the kids were with the music teacher, PE teacher or  the teacher-librarian. (They actually have those kinds of teachers out there.) I’d argue that is more productive use of prep time, than a full workshop every third or fourth Friday.

Maybe you throw it all together for discussion, talk to teachers and find a way to make lunch work for everyone – kids, teachers, parents and the cash-strapped school boards.

Hey, by-election candidates. Care to weigh in? Parents, what do you think?






Why I’m considering running for the vacant CBE trustee position


When I ran for public school board trustee in 2010, I ran on a platform of fiscal restraint and reform, public accountability and meaningful public engagement. I lost a close race, but did publicize many issues at the Calgary Board of Education.

Until my campaign, there had been no public disclosure of the $285 million lease on the new education centre, no criticism of the Board’s fundraising arm Education Matters (that cost more in administration funding than it raised in donations) and little debate about the Board’s excessive private meeting time. I heard many complaints about the way the Board was making decisions, without engaging its key stakeholders, like parents, in any meaningful way, and pledged to improve the process.

Why should I run again?

All of those issues still exist.

While a couple of trustees have worked hard to ensure more detailed budgets are presented to the public, there is still a lack of understanding of the true costs of administration. There is a large gap between the provincial per student grant and what is sent to CBE schools to spend on staff and students. I plan on doing a lot more research on this in the coming weeks to determine just what this gap is.

Public engagement? Well, they haven’t tried to build any windmills without asking the community, but trustees and administration alike still continue to talk to parents, not with them. At the Oct 21 Board meeting, three trustees voted to commend the administration for improving parent involvement. The indicator of success? Page views on the CBE website had increased.

While there are a couple of declared candidates,  who I’m sure are great people and ardent supporters of public education,, I’m not sure any have shown they have the what it takes to turn this board around. The risk we run electing someone without an understanding of the system is the new trustee gets swept along with the majority, who support administration unconditionally and don’t ask any tough questions.

There is a long history of this, going back four superintendents. In 1999, it was administration who encouraged then-Education Minister Lyle Oberg to sack all the CBE Trustees, including now PC MLA Danielle Smith. From that moment, the new board worked in deference to admin. That continued through Chief Superintendent Brendan Croskery, who convinced the Board to go along with the new Education Centre Lease, which has been called the worst real estate deal in Calgary history. We now know the lease was signed by administration, and then approved by trustees 18 months later. I’ve talked to trustees on the board at the time. They were informed about developments, but there wasn’t ever any outs. Administration didn’t ask for checks or oversight, and trustees didn’t demand them. It is a classic case of cart driving the horse, with no escape route and no one watching.  (Every meeting about the Ed Centre happened behind closed doors.) I think this type of thing may be still happening. (I think of the negotiations about the new Sports School.)

Trustees shouldn’t be beholden to administration. You can be a trustee, celebrating the good while speaking out about the bad. Just because you are critical of the CBE, doesn’t mean you don’t support the organization. In many ways, it means you care more about it. I have three children in three CBE schools. I see the best of the organization, and the worst of it every day. I want to see  more of the good things and a lot less of the bad ones.

However, you can’t be an effective trustee that if you think that the problem is solely caused by the province. Some people, including a majority of current trustees feel that if the minister just paid more money and built schools, the CBE wouldn’t have any issues at all.

Watch the last 10 years of budget debates. I’ve either been there or watched most of them. Most trustees ONLY moan and complain about provincial funding levels. They do little to actually look at the numbers, question the benefits of costly expenditures or ask for facts to support administration claims. Most approve as is, with little debate (With notable exceptions – Trina Hurdman and Sheila Taylor, for example.)

I recognize that stable funding is a priority for budgeting. And while I will always advocate for public money for public education, I understand that resources are finite. I’d like to see a trustee candidate pledge, not to ask for more money, but to ensure that ALL money that comes to the CBE is spent in the best way possible, and that scarce education dollars are completely focussed on student learning, not legal opinions or spin doctors.

CBE parents pay some of the highest fees in the province, and in many ways, are provided with a lot less service. It is the biggest board, and given economies of scale, it should be in a much better position than smaller boards. But it isn’t. Can we please elect a trustee who is willing to figure out why.

Tomorrow, I’ll have another blog post. The reasons I shouldn’t run.