Because of Edmonton's growth in students and reduction in funding, it is clear to me that the status quo is not sustainable, and the level of education to which families in Edmonton have grown accustomed will be challenged. So what deteriorates, and what do we stop doing?
At the last meeting when we voted on our distribution of funds, one of the areas we wrestled with was inclusion and staffing levels for supporting special needs students. I requested information for our own district budget and I would like to see this reviewed across Alberta as well.
I'll be hosting a Trustee Talk with Greta from Strategic Alliance for Learning Disabilities on Monday, April 26th and I invite you to attend. You can register here and I'll send a virtual link prior to the meeting: https://forms.gle/4fnegw4v52nob1K5A
Please keep reading to provide feedback on our funding for special needs students as well as my call for a provincial review of inclusion.Read more
Unfortunately, a majority of the Board of Trustees didn't support my previous motion for the creation of the Office of an Independent Auditor at the March 23rd, 2021 Board Meeting.
On Tuesday, April 13th as part of our annual budget process (see the distribution of funds report), I will be asking my colleagues to amend the budget to specifically set aside an additional $100,000 for the purpose of trustee initiated, independent third party audit.
This is separate from creating an independent auditor- instead, this is setting aside resources for audits. While some Trustees indicated they supported independent audit in principle, they were reluctant about creating a permanent, audit officer and thought instead that spot checks could be accomplished within current committees. This would provide those resources for these spot checks.
Good policy and governance transcend any individual elected official or administrator but instead look to independent, transparent, and verifiable processes. Currently, there is a lack of an independent reporting mechanism to the Board of Trustees, aside from the annual audit, which is minimal in scope. While I acknowledge that the Board of Trustees receives numerous reports and information from a variety of sources, very little of it is from an independent third party.
In my experience as a Trustee, we are at a great point in our governance. However, we must be mindful of enhancements and look for sources of continuous improvement. I can think of numerous previous and future examples where this could be an asset, including school closures, program placements, elimination, review of procurement processes, etc. Even if the consultant is a third party, the fact that it was selected by either the administration or the Board of Trustees has led to accusations of bias or interference in the experience.
Edmonton Public Schools embraces accountability as one of our cornerstone values. We have some of the most robust and transparent governance systems in Alberta, or Canada. We were the first to livestream our Board meetings (2010), and the first to appoint external members to our audit committee.
Enhanced public assurance and transparency are essential, especially in the tough economic times ahead for public education. The Edmonton Public School Board budget is over $1.2 billion dollars, operates hundreds of buildings, programs, and has large contracts for technology, transportation, and major projects.
*UPDATED MAY 7th 2021:
My request for information was returned with the following costs (see response #2) for bike racks and cages. Bike Racks could cost $750,000 across the district, but cages could cost $3.5 million across the district.
This was another issue that I know many Trustees wanted to see addressed but was stalled because of the Pandemic. Safe, quality bike racks, and bike cages are essential to supporting active transportation needs for students, staff and families.
On Tuesday, April 13th as part of our annual budget process (see the distribution of funds report), I will be asking my colleagues to amend the budget to specifically provide funds for quality bike racks and cages at schools, just as we allocate almost $500,000 for EPSB District Parking lots. The cost of a bike cage to a school is estimated to be approximately $16,000.
I believe this is one of those areas where the Board should not leave action up to individual schools through site-based decisions. There should be a clear, consistent, and enforceable policy throughout the district, funded through on par with parking lots. I hope that this support from Edmonton Public Schools will catalyze further action from the provincial government to mandate (and fund) the provision of active transportation infrastrucutre for all schools.
In 2016, I hosted an event with community leaders about eliminating the barriers to active transportation for schools. My friend Troy provided an excellent recap of the role that all orders of government, neighbourhoods, and community leaders can play.
From EPSB Active Transportation Recommendations:
Many students choose to walk, ride or roll to school.
Active transportation helps to:
This was another issue that I know many Trustees wanted to see addressed but was stalled because of the Pandemic.
In 2019 I was approached by a number of students and staff members through the U of A School of Public Health, Students Invested in Health Association among others who requested that school boards provide menstrual products in washrooms on par with the provision of soap and toilet paper. Like many other items, the pandemic derailed our progress.
On Tuesday, April 13th as part of our annual budget process (see the distribution of funds report), I will be asking my colleagues to amend the budget for the deliberate inclusion of menstrual products in alignment with how soap, toilet paper, and other basic needs are provided. Anecdotally, I've heard widespread support from Trustees for this initiative.
- The Toronto District School Board began providing products in 2019 as well as London and Waterloo, Ontario
- In spring 2019, British Columbia also began providing products to students in schools
- Red Deer school boards are also providing free products
- The University of Alberta has also been providing product at Infolink and is in the process of providing dispensers on campus.
- Considering the City of Edmonton just initiated a change last week (April 2021) that products would be available in city washrooms
While we would need to work with the administration to examine how exactly the rollout should occur, this initiative is long overdue. I've spoken with the Student Advocates for Public Health who provided this image and press release from their event (April 6th, 2020). I also spoke with No woman without, period, who have done an enormous amount of advocacy and providing product through donations. I've also heard from staff members who have, for years, provided products out of their own pocket for students who have been discreetly advocating for this change to school budgets. I've heard from students and alumni of Edmonton Public Schools how important this initiative is and would contribute to creating a welcoming school environment for all.
I believe this is one of those areas where the board should not leave action up to individual site-based decisions. There should be a clear, consistent, and enforceable policy throughout the district, funded through on par with other necessities. I hope that this support from Edmonton Public Schools will catalyze further action from the provincial government to mandate (and fund) the provision of menstrual products in all schools on par with the provision of hand soap, toilet paper, and other necessities.
What is a Trustee?
What is it that you are protecting or entrusted to defend?
There is the organization, Edmonton Public Schools, but there is also the whole institution of public education that we all benefit and derive value from. Over 80% of the community at a given time do not have school-aged children enrolled in the district, but they still benefit either as alumni or from having a broadly educated populace.
When you defend public education you are defending the fundamental idea of a democracy -- the idea that a democratic society is built and can only function with a healthy and educated populace. We all benefit from being stronger together. We all benefit when we collectively prepare the next generation of civil society for a life of dignity and fulfillment.
Not me, but we.
As I reflect on my eleven years as your EPSB Trustee, I cannot state strongly enough how school systems are impacted by municipal context. As I read the proposed Ten Year Facilities Plan update 2020-2029, many interesting questions come to mind.
In 2015, I was EPSB Board Chair and Alberta was in a $5 billion school building boom. We opened 19 new schools, many in suburban neighborhoods outside the Henday. Five years later with our current economic challenges, I don’t know if we will see an investment like that ever again.
Looking ahead, it makes more social, environmental, and fiscal sense to help families live closer to existing schools and playgrounds...Read more
In the short term, we need internet rate subsidies and measures to make internet more affordable. In the medium term, we need to join with partners in advocating for municipal broadband.
Be it resolved that:
1) the Edmonton Public School Board advocate for the establishment of municipal broadband, modelled on the example of Connect Toronto and other publicly-owned telecommunications initiatives across North America.
2) That the Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the federal and provincial governments for immediate initiatives to increase accessibility, quality and reduce the cost of internet for students, staff, and families.
- That the EPSB write a letter of support to the federal government for the $50/month “Canadian Broadband Benefit” (CBB) as outlined by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Further, we would support the Internet for all campaign by ACORN Canada which demands $10/month high-speed internet for low-income families.
- We would ask that these actions be championed by our provincial school board organizations (such as the ASBA and PSBAA) to ensure equitable internet/technology-based learning access for all Albertans.
For example, supporting the CBB as advocated by ACORN Canada and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre would see a payment to reduce internet bills by $50/month for low-income Canadians and those Canadians qualifying for the CERB benefit. It would largely parallel the $50USD benefit recently approved in Congress for Americans facing barriers.
We can do much better. Locally, I am unimpressed by the TELUS Internet for Good program, as it requires proof of family income below $31,120 per year, which is (punishingly) low. This service also only provides a maximum of 25 megabytes of download service, which is below the CRTC's minimum recommended threshold of a 50 megabit connection for a typical household. This program merely offers half of a proper internet connection to the absolute poorest families. This is inadequate, as it is too slow and excludes too many people. TELUS' yearly net income regularly exceeds $1 billion.Read more
Speaking Municipally Podcast:
We're joined by EPSB Ward F Trustee Michael Janz to discuss surplus school sites and a little-known public school board power to levy new taxes.
Listen here: https://share.transistor.fm/s/871ad2b2
During my visit with the grade six civics classes, I explain that almost 100% of the public education budget is provided by the the Provincial Government.
I was surprised to learn that there is another mechanism school boards may attempt to gain revenue: a special school tax levy. (Read More)