Moving Day is here!

Done deal. Come see us at http://www.educationsimcoe.com or http://www.robertnorth.ca

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Four More Years!

Well here we are. About eight months since I registered to hold my position on the SCDSB. This past week, I hardly slept at all. I was waiting for someone to come along, register to run against me, and launch a battle to represent Adjala-Tos, Essa, and Borden. As each day passed, I got less sleep. I bet I slept for about 3 hours last night. I’m beat!

And 2:00 PM today came. I checked the townships’ websites. Nada. I called the Clerk’s office. Nope. No takers. Well – if you like me – its all good news. And if you don’t – well – it is what it is. People had almost nine months to register.

Given that the entire south Simcoe area is seeing more election activity than I’ve seen in at least a decade, how do I explain this? I’m hoping that it’s because folks in Essa, Adjala-Tos, and Borden feel I’ve done a decent job. I think I’ve done pretty good. Tens of millions of dollars have flowed into capital projects there, scores (which will be released next week) will make the news (I’m not allowed to say just yet), and we as a board have managed to protect what we could in an era of decreasing enrollment, and decreasing funding. I’ve been on Twitter, Facebook, and blogged and updated my website. I hope this had something to do with it as well. I spent a great deal of time on these, and look forward to tweeting and blogging, and so on into the future.

I’m also a realist. I know that the race for Trustee does not generate near the press that a race for Councillor, Deputy Mayor, or Mayor does. It’s strange really. The larger municipality that I represent has a budget of about $22 million I think. They have 5 on council. The school board manages a budget of over half a billion dollars. We employ almost five THOUSAND people, and we serve the educational needs of 50,000 students in over 100 facilities. And nobody wants to talk about the race for Trustee. Nobody cares, until something really makes them care. School closures. Loss of a program. WiFi. Moral Education, etc. Then, they care. Pay attention to what’s going on in your local school, and school board. It affects your kids. It affects you. It affects your community.

Seeing as I won’t be stumping for myself this time around, I’d like to offer some advice to the voters out there. Ask questions of your candidates. Ask them tough questions. Ask them about how they’ve voted on various issues in the past. Tell them what’s really important to you – long and short term.

If you are in an area outside of AT and Essa, and are voting for Trustee, might I suggest a few questions to ask.

  1. How familiar are you with how the board actually operates (Decisions moving from committee to board, what are the duties and rights of a trustee, what’s closed session and what’s public session, and so on).
  2. How familiar are you with how the larger system operates? (Hiring of teachers, duties of a principal, class size calculations, bargaining groups, etc.)
  3. What real leadership positions have you had in various areas? Describe your leadership style.
  4. If you’re an incumbent trustee, do you vote only for the short term, or do you see the big picture. Can you make required but perhaps unpopular decisions?
  5. How do you get along with people? Do you have an ego, or can you work as part of a team? Can you persuade people to vote with you based on information and vision, or do you try to plow through issues like a bull in a china shop?
  6. Can you take up one issue at a time, and then move onto the next without holding a grudge? Will your emotions cloud you judgement?
  7. Do you have a passion for public education, or are you just there as a stepping stone to something seen as ‘higher’?
  8. Do you have a vision for the future, or do you just tell people what they want to hear?

And when you ask any of these questions, get specific. Get examples. Most of these questions can be applied Councillors, Deputy Mayors, Mayors, MPs, MPPs, etc.

Ask the questions.

The answers are your future.

Access Copyright appears to be doing the Herbal

Recently, Access Copyright, a group supposedly representing writers, artists, and so on won a Federal Appeals Court ruling that will see them extract about $60 million from various Canadian school boards.

So here we go again. Instead of buying new textbooks, hiring EAs, providing smaller class sizes, opening closed classrooms, etc., we’re going to be sending a cheque to access copyright. And while I have no problem with writers, artists, and the like making money off of their works, I do have a problem going back years and years, and trying to extract money. There’s not much that can be done about this now, as they have won in court. This wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve seen something that was apparently perfectly legal, being morally repugnant.

These days, we have many college and university grads, leaving their post-secondary education, deeply in debt. The last thing we need is to be adding yet another cost onto these students. And the costs will be passed on. Nobody rides for free.

Now here comes the interesting part. This same group, apparently buoyed by their recent success, has applied for an increase in fees related to copyright from universities, including fees for providing hyperlinks to copyright material. If they are successful in this application, just what is the next step? If I post a link from my blog, to a site that contains written material, do I have to pay copyright fees? If you post a link from your Facebook page, to my blog, to the same page, do you pay copyright fees?

I think it’s safe to say we’re just not on a slippery slope here; we’re on a dive holding onto an anchor! I’ll be keeping an eye on this one, and reporting back as things evolve.

Indecent Proposal

I was cruising around the net, as I’m apt to do these days, and came across a truly troubling article. I had heard about this idea, but this was the first time that I read a full newspaper article about it. The only thing more disconcerting than the concept – was the source of the concept.

Josh Matlow, a Toronto District School Board Trustee, and now candidate for city councillor, has put forth the idea that school boards should be swallowed up by city government. I find the timing of this idea interesting. I don’t recall hearing Mr. Matlow, or any other Trustee for that matter, thinking this was a great idea, before nominations opened up for trustees, councilors, and mayors. I also wonder if Mr. Matlow would think that the city takeover of school boards would be a good idea, if he loses on October 25th. At that point, he would be neither a trustee, nor a councillor.

School boards are actually the oldest form of democracy in Canada. In the mid-1800s, school boards were put together to administer funds to run local schools. Local taxation was held in trust, for the board to deal out as they saw fit. Teachers’ salaries, supplies, capital, etc. were all handled by the local boards.

Move forward 150 years or so, and we have quite a different situation. This may come as a shock to some readers, but the taxes that are collected on your municipal tax bill, under the heading, education, don’t exactly flow to the local school board. The province funds the board according to some interesting (for lack of a better word) formulae, and then subtracts the local taxation amounts. In other words, your local board has absolutely no say whatsoever in the amount that is charged on your tax bill. That is up to MPAC and mill rates, rather than the local board.

In addition, local boards have limited power when negotiating with the various unions that serve the students of the boards. Much of the big picture items are dealt with through the provincial offices of the unions, along with groups such as OPSBA and the province directly. Local issues are then dealt with at the local level.

So now, some would say that it’s time to get rid of school boards. They can’t tax, they can’t spend too far outside prescribed parameters, and they have limited power. All of these statements are true. But the powers that they do have flow from a local understanding of issues. Trustees are aware of how their communities and constituents feel about the issues, and what is important, and not so important to them.

I have personally had many a conversation with a neighbour at the local Tim Hortons, or in the midst of my weekly grocery shop. We’ve talked about how their school is performing, how their council in raising money, why we should open a new school, why we should close a dwindling school, and so on. Trustees are not involved in paving roads, building sidewalks, installing traffic signs, and so on. We’re specialists in education.

Matlow cites part of the reason for his suggesting that municipalities take over schools was the bickering between the school board, and the City of Toronto. Much of that was centered around swimming pools. Only in Toronto, could there be such an argument. I have a newsflash for Torontonians – the vast majority of Ontario schools do not have swimming pools! The solution to this ‘problem’ was fairly simple in my opinion. The board should have closed the pools that were underutilized and underfunded, and stuck to it. The city could have entered into a contract to operate them, if it was that important. And if it was that important, then they would have been able to justify the spending to their constituents. If it wasn’t that important – then so be it. Running a multi-billion dollar corporation comes with some decisions that require leadership, and on occasion, difficult decisions.

Another reason cited for the possible amalgamation of schools boards into municipal government is the lack of candidates for the Toronto Catholic board. It is interesting that two of the key reasons for this concept are coming from Toronto. It should not be too much of a surprise that the separate board in Toronto is having trouble attracting candidates to serve on their board. Take a look at the recent history. Trustees billing taxpayers for everything from $7500 for an MBA to rental of their homes for a school board office! It became so bad that the Ministry of Education took over the operations of the board, leaving the trustees on the outside looking in. No big surprise that no one wants to be a member of that club, now that they are under the microscope. This problem was not created by the fact that our schools are run by elected trustees. This problem was created by this particular group of trustees, who decided to act outside their jurisdiction and outside common sense and decency. Let’s not paint all school boards with a Toronto brush!

If school boards were to become just another arm of municipal government, just how would that work in an area like Simcoe County? How would it work in a board like the Near North board? Simply put – it wouldn’t. If you think that there is fighting for turf now, between trustees that represent different parts of the County, try it with reps from each municipality. As it stands right now, most of our trustees represent either more than one municipality, or a section of a municipality. Orillia and Innisfil are the only two areas that have a trustee that represent only those municipalities. The rest of us answer to either a section of, or more than one municipality. For the most part – it works. It sure as heck isn’t perfect – but it works.

The other option that has been floated about is simply the Ministry taking over control of the school boards. Another epically bad idea. The only thing worse than a municipal subcommittee trying to wrangle a decision about the future of a school, would be some bureaucrat sitting on a tenth floor office in Toronto deciding. If you think it’s difficult to get your message across right now, imagine the automated voice prompts coming your way when you call into Toronto.

All in all, school boards work. They aren’t perfect, and a few of them – most notably in Toronto – need some serious revamping. And considering that many school boards administer budgets that are many, many times larger than the municipalities that they serve, perhaps the question is, “should school boards take over municipalities?’ Now there’s a question to ponder.