Friday, May 28, 2010

Board approves calendar changes and $6 million in budget cuts

At the May 25th Board meeting the Trustees voted to approve both the budget for the 2010/2011 school year and the proposed local calendar changes.

At the meeting the board approved a final budget for next school year. Having been forced to respond to the Ministry funding limits and to a surprise $540,000 special needs audit fine the Trustees were forced to essentially approve all $6 million in cuts proposed in the Districts 21 Budget Directions document.

Relative to the anticipated cuts, savings from the school closures were able to support 0.5 FTE's of aboriginal support, 0.5 FTE's for counselling, a casual budget to provide some flexibility with special needs support, one library technician and smaller increases in class sizes.

Schools will be closed an additional 6 days next year, November 12th and a two week Spring vacation March 14 - 25, 2011. More info on the calendar changes can be found on the district website. The expected  $180,000 in savings from this measure are to be put into a contingency fund to help the district respond to issues that arise from the restructuring needed to adjust to the $6 million in cuts also approved on Tuesday.

Schools, teachers, services, staff have all been cut for next year. We will see a $1 million restructuring of student services delivery along with many other cuts across the district next year.  Despite the cuts the district must reinvent both its student services model and the alternate school programs and must do so with limited teacher support and training resources. The hard decisions may have been made but the hard implementation is still to come. As parents we will need to be supportive and understanding of the difficulties faced by teachers, staff and administration but also demand creativity and quality as these changes are made. We may be called upon to help create, enable and support new models for our children's education and I hope we can all respond positively to help.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Please Join us for the NVPAC Annual General Meeting - May 20th, 2010

May 20th will be the NVPAC AGM and our final meeting for the year.

We will have a number of special guests (to be announced)

But most importantly this is the time of year we will elect the executive for next year. We will be electing all of our executive positions: chair, vice-chair, secretary, treasurer, registrar, program facilitator as well as 5 members at large.

This is the team that will facilitate and represent parent participation for you at the district level next year and is a great team to be involved with if you can play a role in broader the discussions and decisions that impact students and families across the district.

For job descriptions and more details view the Constitution and Bylaws at

Nominations for executive positions will be accepted from the floor. Hope you can join us for our yearly wrap-up and an opportunity to offer advice ;to the new executive and let them know how they can assist your PAC next year.

Budget and Calendar Input Sought

The school boards May 4th Public Finance and Facilities meeting gave NVTA, CUPE, The secondary and elementary administrators and NorthVan PAC an opportunity to make a short (5 minute) submission with regard to the upcoming budget decisions.

Because of the $760,000 saved through school closures and a potential $180,000 saved through calendar changes and possibly a little more gained through leases the board has gained a bit of flexibility in deciding where to make cuts next year.

Still, they will still need to make $5 million worth of the $6 million cuts proposed to balance next years budget. Even a cursory glance at the list of proposals (Budget 2010 Cost Saving Proposalstells the reader that there is little in there we can actually afford to lose. 

We were asked to suggest where the board should use the $760K to avoid making cuts to the system. Should it be class sizes, librarians, student services, maintenance staff, maintaining a full calendar or some combination of each.

A lot of discussion was concentrated on the proposed calendar changes. what was clear in the discussions was that 6 days change in the calendar impacts people disproportionately. For some its a relatively minor issue but for the significant number of families and students that need the time, the support and the structure of the school system the struggle to find the resources to deal with this change will be significant. The sense I got was that the school district thought they could find a way to make the 6 day calendar change while still supporting those that need the school system at that time. Its hard to say if this would work not knowing the family situations, what the district is proposing to do to help them or what the cost of that support might be. It is not clear whether the disruption is worth the savings but this should definitely be part of the boards due diligence on this issue.

If you have comment you would like to make on the budget proposals or the calendar it is best to send it to the trustees ASAP as the decisions on these issues will likely be made at the May 25th board meeting

Trustee Email Addresses 

NVPAC submission to Finance & Facilities Meeting

Below is a written version of the NVPAC submission regarding proposed budget cuts made to the May 4th Finance & Facilities meeting...

In recent months we have spent a good deal of time looking at school closures and in the past few weeks have decided to close schools and alternate programs in an effort to save money and gain the flexibility to avoid some of the cuts to programs and services being forced on us by the current financial situation.

Most of the cuts look innocent as they get at indirect services such as professional development, LAC and administration.  These cuts however will place more burden on the front line teachers and the few remaining admin folks.  Both of these effects will reduce the ability of the District to help all our kids learn, to plan properly and to manage the limited resources well.

There is not much time left to properly consider all the proposed cuts and I do not have the knowledge that would enable me to assess the impacts on students, staff and teachers for most of the specific proposals. For that we must all rely on the professionals to explain the impact.

What I will speak about are some general concerns and thoughts about how to approach this complex decision under three headings: Meaningful comparison, Erosion at the margins and Capacity to adapt.

Meaningful Comparison
My first recommendation is to ensure you take the time to compare the options in terms of their actual impact on students. If we look at the proposal document and at the budget discussions so far we have concentrated a lot on abstract numbers (FTE's etc.) and I think this makes weighing the options virtually impossible. We see a number and think we could cut that, but can we? Few people know what the numbers mean, and in many cases what the current #'s are and what they mean. What is needed for each proposed cut is for you as trustees to ask the questions that will let you understand the impact the changes would have on the ground to kids in the schools. Not as an aggregate number in total for the district, or as a change from last year. What does it take to deliver those services today, what is the demand for the service and what would kids that require those services find they would get next year?

In particular, we are concerned about the significant cuts and reorganization of student services included in "instructional practices #2" there are a lot of different student supports captured within that one recommendation. Student Services have been hit, time & time again and it does affect the classroom learning of all children. This one item needs to be looked at deeply to understand the specific impacts of cuts to the different services rather than generically grouping them all in under one big "student services" line item.

In order to ensure that people really understand the gravity of the cuts and can make a meaningful comparison between the options it is essential that the numbers and cuts be presented in a way that is meaningful to the community. Every option should be presented in some form of "this cut (example) would look like this (example) at the district, school, and/or classroom level...."  The key is to not shy away from the real impact of what effect the cuts have on students, staff, and community at all levels but to capture those impacts so tradeoffs can be weighed in understandable language that relates to the everyday experience of parents, staff, teachers and most importantly, students.

Eroding the margins
Many of the proposed cuts could impact each schools capacity to respond to the individual needs of students especially those that are on the margins of the normal system. There will likely still be support and time for students that are failing to fit into the regular program to get them back into the system. But I am concerned for students that are struggling, the cuts will likely reduce teacher, staff and administration time needed to identify and assist students struggling to stay with the regular program and provide suitable early intervention to meet their needs before a struggle results in failure. Our recommendation is that Trustees carefully consider the needs of students on the margins for a responsive, adaptable school system and ensure that despite any cuts we continue to enable schools to identify struggling students and apply school and district resources to help those students regain a stable position in the school system.

School Plans typically identify a schools strategy to improve reading, writing, and math through intervention to assist marginally performing students using a variety of methods but the practicality of this depends on anticipated cuts. Trustees should look to school plans for guidance as to the specific areas where the district needs to focus secondary services.

Capacity to adapt
The third important factor is to relate the options taken today to the effects we will feel tomorrow as we look ahead to future planning and our resulting ability to stay the course versus reacting to every financial or policy bump along the way.

North Van school district is a place of constant change. Between declining enrolment, new alternative programs, all-day K, new ministry guidelines, school closures etc. the district needs to respond to many changes now and into the future. My concern is that by focusing all resources on individual schools and delivering education only for today that the district will lose the institutional memory, shared learning and common resources needed to continue to adapt, develop, maintain, and support our staff, teachers, curriculum etc. and thereby maintain high quality education in North Vancouver.  Our recommendation is that Trustees carefully consider cuts to district support to make sure that any short-term cuts do not eliminate the districts ability to adapt our teaching to the long-term needs of students.

For example cuts to professional development may be expedient for a year or two but this could be catastrophic if allowed to continue for too long resulting in lost capacity and lost morale. We should be careful to have a plan to ensure we maintain the practices and resources needed to keep North Van Schools strong.

In conclusion, we are concerned that given the short time for discussion cuts may be made without meaningful comparison of the impacts, especially cuts that erode supports for struggling students and eliminate the districts capacity to adapt to change. But we are also confident that as trustees you will do your due diligence and we encourage you to make sure that before you make cuts you know what those people do, why that service is needed today, who will be impacted, how they will be impacted today and tomorrow and what staff, students and parents will need to do (if anything) to reduce that impact.

District Restructuring 2010

The School Board has now met and made their decisions coming out of the restructuring process.

  • The school board has decided to close Plymouth in June 2010 and commit themselves to the 3 into 1 consolidation of Seymour Heights, Blueridge and Plymouth as soon as a replacement school can be built at Seymour Heights.
  • The board has decided to close Fromme Elementary in June 2010
  • The board have decide to close and re-invent all of the alternative programs (Keith Lynn, Windsor House, 3rd step, YLC) under a single umbrella in a yet to be named facility sometime between June 2011 and June 2012. 

As of this writing parents at Fromme and Plymouth will have submitted their decisions regarding school choice for next year, some of which will have been easy and some incredibly difficult as parents grapple with a complex set of changes. It has not been an easy process and it is not yet really over, but at least on those two fronts we have an answer.

The decision to consolidate all of the alternate programs into a yet to be defined new program remains a difficult challenge. The working groups came to the conclusion that this was the most difficult path for these groups. It will take a lot of dedication, effort and resources to define a new program that can meet the needs of the students in all of those programs. I believe that in making this decision the board has made an optimistic step and is asking all the people involved in those programs to take a similarly optimistic step in order to create a new program. I'm sure it will  be hard and it will take a lot of work to define this new way of doing things, there are what appear to be many unresolvable situations in this move, but my hope is that the dedicated people on those teams will be able to find a way to create something even better out of this situation and that they will be permitted the time, resources and flexibility to do so.